Margaret Ferguson, KidLit Editor & Publisher Extraordinaire
PAPER WISHES is a story about Manami, a ten-year old Japanese-American girl who is in a terrible situation over which she has no control. She loses her home on Bainbridge Island, her dog, and her life as she knew it when she and her family are sent to Manzanar internment camp after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Through the love of her family, Manami establishes a rhythm to her days there--spending time with her grandfather, tending her mother's garden, going to school and always longing for her dog, Yujiin, to find his way to her. And when Yujiin doesn't come, she "sends" him paper wishes that she hopes will make him come. The narrative also works in bits about how her family tries to maintain traditions from their old life--having a tea ceremony, a paper lantern ceremony, for examples, which shows us in a subtle way how much they have lost. Throughout the story, Manami's observations and worries seem so real to me, as does her eventual triumph which isn't about being released from the camp, but finding her own voice.
When you first read PAPER WISHES, what was it about Lois Sepahban’s writing style, her voice that truly excited you?
I love the spare and evocative prose that Lois uses to write her story. In a way, it was like editing poetry where every word is important and can't be misplaced. It was also a fun challenge to maintain that feeling and describe the historical details.
Why did you decide you wanted to be the editor and publisher for PAPER WISHES?
I had always wanted to acquire a novel about what happened to Japanese Americans during World War II in this country, but had never read one that I liked. When I first read PAPER WISHES, I was struck by how literary it was and how much I believed Manami's voice--it just drew me in. Then I spoke to Lois on the phone and discovered we both grew up in California and shared a fascination with Manzanar--and why it was glossed over in our education. We also discussed the things that weren't clear to me and she was on board to make changes.
As you worked through revisions together, what did you appreciate about Lois's work ethic?
I think I probably drove Lois crazy with all of my comments and questions—at least she knew I cared--but she was always willing to listen. We went through the manuscript four or five times (that isn't unusual for me) and Lois was always eager to get back to work.
What do you hope children reading this book will carry away with them?
I hope that children who read PAPER WISHES will be encouraged by Manami's resiliency in a terrible situation. I also hope it can provide a stepping stone for bigger discussions in classrooms about this horrible injustice against Japanese Americans in our history--and what it means to judge someone so unfairly.
Paper Wishes is historical-fiction for middle-grade readers ages 8-12. It is written by Lois Sepahban and published by Margaret Ferguson Books, January 2016. Read a starred Kirkus Review HERE.