Author Interview with Jennifer Maruno

Author Interview with Jennifer Maruno

Posted on September 1 by admin
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For the long weekend, we have a couple of different author interviews lined up. Today we’re talking with Jennifer Maruno author of the new release Cherry Blossom Winter, which is the sequel to the novel When the Cherry Blossoms Fell.

Caitlyn: Tell us about your book

Jennifer: Cherry Blossom Winter is the sequel novel to When the Cherry Blossoms Fell. Both  are about Michiko Minagawa , a young girl growing up in Vancouver during the Second World War. She wants to be proud of her Japanese heritage, as her grandfather expects,  but can’t.  After the bombing of Pearl Harbour, the Canadian government brands all Japanese-Canadians alien enemies. They are forced to abandon their home, car and most of their possessions and move into the interior of British Columbia under the guise of security measures.

Their first home in the Ghost Town Internment Camp is a derelict farmhouse, where they wait for Michiko’s father to return from a government road camp in the mountains. When he gets a job at the local drugstore, they are able to move to the apartment above the store.

Kiko, Michiko’s new friend , helps her realize life above a drugstore is far better than living in the tiny wooden shacks the government  built to accommodate the Japanese Canadians  in the old apple orchard. When Kaz Katsumoto becomes her teacher at the Hardware Store School, life gets even better. The former Asahi star has her class playing baseball every day. When Michiko’s class challenges the teachers to a game, to everyone’s surprise the whole town turns out to watch.

As the war progresses, the Japanese Canadians are informed they may leave the camp but cannot return to Vancouver. The government also offers free passage to Japan for those who wish to return to the land of their ancestry. Kiko’s family moves  to Toronto. Michiko’s mother won’t discuss moving with a new baby on the way. Pretending to be her mother, Michiko applies for a job in Ontario. The Minigawa family once again packs their meager belongings and head for yet another new life on a flower farm.

Caitlyn: How did you come up with the idea?

Jennifer: When  I was a teenager, I baby-sat for a Japanese Canadian family. They often used phrases I didn’t understand, such as “that was before we went to camp,” or “our free ride to the mountains.”

In the 1980’s, while I was doing research for  a teacher’s guide for Baachan! Geechan! Arigato, a picture book produced by the Momiji Health Care Society in Toronto, things began to make sense. There wasn’t a lot of information at that time about the plight of the Japanese Canadians. I read all of Joy Kogawa’s works and visited lots of libraries, but I got the distinct impression it was a period of Canadian history that wasn’t being fully shared.

When I met my husband Stan, it came as quite a surprise to find out that he was interned as a child. Like other children who went to the Internment camps, he did not have bitter memories of the experience because the parents kept the truth from them.  Although they lived in wooden cabins, they missed a year of school playing outside with many other children of their own age. The children saw it as a kind of strange holiday in the mountains.

I knew I could develop a plot line that had a child wonder why she was here and  what it was about. The character of Michiko began to form in my mind.

Caitlyn: How did you research your book?

Jennifer: My mother-in-law, Eiko, told me all about her experience.   I recorded this first-hand knowledge along with that of her friends because I didn’t want the family to lose this important part of their own history.

Family photographs, even though Japanese owning camera’s at this time had been outlawed, also helped me with my research. I spent many hours looking through the albums with Eiko at my side. She shared so many memories of what happened before and after each one of her pictures. She introduced me to friends she made in the camp and they shared their experiences as well.

Stan and I travelled to the small town of New Denver in the Kootenay Mountains where his family was detained. It is now the Japanese Memorial Museum. We toured the buildings, found the family name on the lists, walked the railway tracks and sat on the docks. Our pictures evoked more memories from Eiko and created new ones for us.

Caitlyn: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received as a writer?

Jennifer: It’s not enough to have a story idea to create a children’s novel. One has to learn the craft of writing. I took many courses through The Institute of Children’s Literature and Humber College.

Freida Wishinsky, an extremely talented writer for children, advised me to join a writer’s group and it has been the most valuable advice given to me so far. A writer’s group allows you to read your work to those who understand and value what you do. They provide a safe audience as well as insight and productive criticism. I meet with Sylvia McNicoll, Geisla Sherman and Estelle Salata, three of the ten  writers in my Thursday night group.

Caitlyn: Describe the most memorable response you’ve received from a reader.

Jennifer: While I was attending the Hackmatach awards ceremonies for When the Cherry Blossoms Fell, a young boy exclaimed the following, “I just don’t get it. I thought Canada was supposed to be a free country. How come this happened?”

My response to him was, “You do get it. You got the very nugget of the story and I congratulate you for your insight.”

Caitlyn: What is your new project?

Jennifer: I am currently  polishing a manuscript my newest novel for children entitled Kid Soldier. Dundurn  Press will be releasing  in the new year. It is the true story of my father, who joined the Canadian army under a false name at the age of 15. I am also completing as the third book in the Cherry Blossom Series.


Jennifer Maruno is a longtime educator and writer of award-winning educational materials. Her debut novel, When the Cherry Blossoms Fell, was shortlisted for the 2011 Hackmatack Award and the 2012 Pacific Northwest Young Readers Choice Award. Her second historical novel, Warbird, followed in 2010. She lives in Burlington, Ontario.