Friday, July 24, 2015

Callahan Crossroads, Anola Pickett, and You

Greetings, Friends of the Blog! Today I bring you a brief conversation with the children's author Anola Pickett, a talented writer who also--in the interest of full disclosure--happens to be my mother.

Her latest book, "Callahan Crossroads," came out earlier this month and it's a bit of a departure from her previous work; it has a male protagonist, it's set in the middle of the country and it takes place during a war. Here's the jacket summary, which pretty much nails it: 
It's the summer of 1918, and all twelve-year-old George Callahan wants to do is hunt for spies with his best friend. But with America at war, the Callahan family is facing new challenges on all fronts. Thoughtfully researched, beautifully written, and filled with historic detail, this heartwarming family drama is an instant classic both children and adults will enjoy.
I of course can't give an unvarnished review "Crossroads" for a variety of reasons, ranging from the fact that I'm [REDACTED] years outside the intended audience to the fact that, again, I am the author's son. But as a Kansas City native, I enjoyed seeing so many familiar streets and places (even ones that really only exist in old pictures now) name-checked. And as a guy who maybe knows more than he should about military history, a snapshot of what it was like at home during World War I was fascinating too--especially as seen through the eyes of a tween.

Overall, there are a lot of topics that you don't often see in a book for this age group. One of the biggest is how we are expected to act on the homefront during wartime, and how that can trample everyday human concerns. Feminism also makes an appearance, in the form of a debate over women's suffrage and Aunt Nora, who plans to join the Marines.

Here's what the author has to say about "Callahan Crossroads." Very minor spoilers within:

Q: Kansas City features almost like a character in the book. Why did you choose it as a setting?

A: Kansas City, of course, is familiar territory because I grew up and have spent most of my life here. It was fun to put George and his family in a neighborhood close to my own childhood home and to include streets and sites that are part of my hometown. For someone researching a book about the "war to end all wars," Kansas City was a logical setting because it's home to the National World War I Memorial and Museum. ( I wanted to honor the spirit of Kansas City. After the war, Kansas Citians raised $2,000,000 to build a memorial “In honor of those who served in the world war in defense of liberty and our country.”

Q: How much of the characters and situations are based on your own family and memories?

A: As I wrote the book, some situations from my childhood flowed into the story. My mother was a seamstress, as was George's. She woke us up by pounding on the ceiling with a broom handle--a highly effective wake-up call! She and I struggled daily over her insistence that I eat what I considered lumpy oatmeal. When I was very small, a man came around every evening to light the gas street light and returned each morning to extinguish it. Milk and bread were delivered via horse-drawn wagons, as was ice in the summer and coal in the winter. Our house was on a terrace, as were the homes of the Callahans and the Kellys. Mrs. Schmitt's gingerbread men came from the memory of a woman who lived next door to my family. My mother often talked about her days in St. Vincent's parish and school. My extended family reflects the disparity of attitudes and action towards war. Like George's brother Charlie, one of my brothers was a conscientious objector and some nephews refused to register. I also have cousins and nephews with military experience and one nephew proudly serves in the U.S. Navy. I'm proud of them all for following their hearts and beliefs.

Q: How do you think attitudes toward war have changed since 1918?

A: In 1918 everyone in the country was aware that we were at war. The government established many departments to make sure that everyone was involved. Daily messages and omnipresent posters called the nation to serve--not just in the military--but at home by conserving food and energy, by saving metal and fruit pits (for gas mask filters), by collecting books for the soldiers, by buying Liberty Bonds and War Savings Stamps to financially support the war. Today, it seems to me, only those in military service and their families are directly involved in the war. The citizenry is not asked to sacrifice financially or to conserve resources or collect anything to help in a war. Military action seems removed from the daily lives of Americans.

Q: How unusual was Nora's situation? How many women served in the Marines during World War I?

A: Although a woman named Lucy Brewer served in the U.S. Marine Corps during the War of 1812, she was disguised as a man. The Corps began recruiting women into their ranks in August, 1918. They were assigned to office and communications work here in this country. Opha Johnnson was the first official woman Marine and 304 women had followed her into the Corps by the end of the war. General Jack Pershing (a Missourian) had already recruited young women to serve overseas as telephone operators. He gave priority to those who could speak French. In my book one of Nora's friends had left for Europe to do just that. Other women were "over there" as well: nurses, Red Cross workers, etc. None of them were on the front lines.

Q: You weren't around during World War I, but how were things during World War II in Kansas City? What do you remember? Did you have any German neighbors, and if so, how were they treated?
A: World War II brought back many of the efforts from the first war. Citizens were asked to buy bonds and stamps to support the war effort; food was rationed, along with shoes and gas. Schools held paper and metal drives. We collected grease and took it to the butcher. I don't remember any antipathy toward German neighbors, but there were negative feelings about the Japanese. Although there were no Japanese-Americans in my neighborhood, I remember that the owners of a Chinese restaurant were whispered about. I'm sure their business suffered because some local gossips thought they looked "Oriental."

Want to know more about Mom/Anola and her work? Visit her website,

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