Posted by: Kathy Temean | August 7, 2017

Kathleen Burkinshaw – The Last Cherry Blossom – Talks Research

Yesterday was the 72nd anniversary of the dropping of an atomic bomb on Hiroshima during the last days of WWII. After reading Kathleen’s great middle grade book, I asked if she could share how she researched the book, knowing it would help so many writers.

Here is the review I wrote on Goodreads:

Fabulous! From the first page to the last, I kept saying, “Wow, this is such a great book.” It is a story that needed to be told and one that should be read by young and old. Kathleen has woven a beautiful story into a book that submerges the reader in the Japanese culture leading up to the Atomic Bomb that ended WWII. I don’t know how much of her mother’s story Kathleen told, but I know her love for her family and Mother poured out of her and onto the pages of this book – so touching, so heartfelt. I ached for all the characters who lost so much. Don’t miss reading this book.

Afterward Kathleen said over 85% of the book is true. Even though this is a post about process. I asked Kathleen if she would do a book giveaway, wanting to make sure this book gets in many hands. So follow the same drill with commenting, Tweeting, Facebook, etc. She is also doing a Here is Kathleen sharing her process and Click here if you missed reading the book’s journey.

So you have two changes to win a book. Right here on Writing and Illustrating, then use this link for a second chance to win a signed copy of THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM

Here is Kathleen sharing how she researched the book:


1. Daily life in Japan based on my mother’s memories.
2. Information about the culture and mindset of the Japanese people.
3. What life in Hiroshima was like during the war
4. The day of the bombing itself and the aftermath.


I interviewed my mom about her memories of August 6th and what happened to her in the weeks following that. To balance things out I also had her discuss happier memories from her childhood, and give me examples of what she did on an average day as a twelve-year-old in Japan.


I knew I needed more information to immerse the reader in the culture of that time in Hiroshima. I needed to describe what the town of Hiroshima looked like during WWII. I intended to begin my book about nine months before the atomic bomb was dropped so that readers would have insight into what the Japanese were being told about the war, how it affected every aspect of their life, and the traditions that they honored as a family. However, it wasn’t easy to find information written in English about the daily life in Japan during WWII. So, I had to get creative. I started with an internet search for articles/posts about WWII in Japan. If a useful book or journal was mentioned as a reference, I would look those up as well. I did purchase some discarded library books, as well as books that were out of print from online vendors through this method.

I spent a lot of time learning about the various celebrations and holidays in Japan. I spent over a month researching Japanese wedding customs for a 2-page scene in my book. I looked up museums to find pictures of wedding kimonos from that time. I even watched some videos of a Japanese wedding ceremony.


One of my best resources was the website for the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum because it had a short movie of what the center of Hiroshima looked like before the bombing. The books I gathered for culture and mindset also helped in this area as well.


Even though I based most of these chapters on what happened to my mom on that day, I still needed more information. As you would expect, The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, was a significant resource in this area. On its web site, I found other survivor accounts, as well as photographs taken after the atomic bomb was dropped. Resources were much easier to find for this phase. I read many books based on that day from various points of view. This was also the most difficult part of my research. Every account I read, I could only picture what it must have been like for my mom to witness such horror. I had to take a two-day break after a day of reading about or writing the scenes for August 6th and focus on other areas because I would be so emotionally drained.

I also did research when my family and I went to Hiroshima in 2015 to honor my mother at the Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall for Atomic Bomb victims. At their library, I discovered the real location of my mother’s house and it was only two miles away from the epicenter, instead of the four or five miles I originally thought. To me, it truly was miraculous that she survived without any major illness throughout her 82 years.

The librarians also showed me a page from the local phone book. My mother’s Papa was listed there. I can’t describe how much it meant for me to see that because there is nothing physically standing now that was my mom’s home, that proved she and her family had a life there. But this somehow filled that void for me.

We also toured Peace Park and the Hiroshima National Peace Museum. I wrote a lot of notes and took many pictures while I was there.

Interestingly, I gathered information that I didn’t set out to find. That visit revealed the beauty of the town my mother grew up in. She always said how lucky she was to have such a scenic area for her hometown. Up until that point, I could only picture the smoldering remnants after the war. However, that trip had me see it through my mother’s eyes. This helped immensely with my descriptions of Hiroshima before the bomb was dropped.

After all the above research areas were completed, I still had one issue. I needed to figure out, how the reader would know the timeframe from one chapter to the next. During the final revision, I came up with the idea to use newspaper headlines with the date, since my main character’s Papa ran his own newspaper company. I also added slogans from radio shows, as well as propaganda posters at the beginning of each chapter. I thought it was a wonderful way to do this, until I had to start searching for this information! Not only needing to find such sources, but I had to be sure that if I used a date in a headline, poster, or radio show, that it also was the correct day of the week in my chapter. Thankfully, there are websites that calculate which day of the week that a particular date had been. Once I had the headlines, slogans, and posters, I matched them up with the events in each chapter, thereby setting the tone as the reader moved one step closer to the atomic bombing.

With all the research I did, inevitably some information would be cut from the book. For example, I spent many hours researching March 3, Hina Matsuri (Girls Day). Yet, I decided not to include it in the final version of the book. However, the time I spent researching this and other information that didn’t go into the book was not wasted. Because I gained information about their celebrations and why they were so important to them. It gave me insight into the way the Japanese family valued and revered their customs and traditions; a theme that I wanted to weave throughout The Last Cherry Blossom. Plus, if I were to write a sequel, they could still come in handy.


Kathleen Burkinshaw is a Japanese American author residing in Charlotte, NC. She’s a wife, mom to a daughter in college, and owns a dog who is a kitchen ninja.  Kathleen enjoyed a 10+ year career in HealthCare Management unfortunately cut short by the onset of Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD). Writing gives her an outlet for her daily struggle with chronic pain. She has presented her mother’s experience in Hiroshima to middle schools for the past 6 years. She has carried her mother’s story in her heart and feels privileged to now share it with the world. Writing historical fiction also satisfies her obsessive love of researching anything and everything. The Last Cherry Blossom, is a SCBWI Crystal Kite Award Finalist (southeast region) and 2016 Scholastic WNDB Reading Club selection.

Thank you Kathleen for putting this article together and offering a book to one lucky winner.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Oh, wow. I’m in Japan right now and just yesterday my friends in Hiroshima were sending me pictures or the Peace Park and the current protests. Thanks for the review!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you so very much for sharing your methods and your book journey.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re very welcome.😊


  3. I can only imagine what an emotional experience it must have been to work on this book. Thank you for sharing it with us and the world.


  4. Reblogged this on Darlene Beck-Jacobson.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve read the book and agree, Kathy, it’s one that many kids and adults should read. I loved hearing about your research process, Kathleen! I’m about to copy your “headlines as chapter headings” idea. Will share on FB and twitter. Would love a copy for my grandkids!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much, Carol😊 I’m so glad you liked my idea. Wishing you good luck in raffle!


  6. Very interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. What a lot of research you have done to make this book be as real as possible. I would love to own this picture book. Thank you for sharing your journey.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re welcome. I’m happy to share my journey. Yes, I wanted to be as authentic as possible. Writing this book has taken me places I never expected.


  8. It was interesting to read about your research process. I can only imagine what an emotional journey it must have been for you, not only the research but the writing, too. It sounds like a wonderful book and I look forward to reading it.


    • Thank you so much Bette. Yes it sure was and it continues to be. 🙂


  9. Fascinating post. I love doing research for the historical I am writing. Thanks for this. No need to enter me in the drawing. I have a copy.


    • Thank you Rosi. I agree it is also very interesting and fun to do, even if it is a lot of work to the process.I hope you enjoyed reading The Last Cherry Blossom.


  10. I am looking forward to reading this to have better knowledge of the circumstances. I have a sister-in-law whose arm was scarred by the bombs we dropped and when I first met her over 40 years ago, it was one of the first things she shared with me. Thanks.


    • Thank you so much for wanting to read more about August 6th. I’m sorry for what your sister-in-law suffered. I hope you enjoy reading The Last Cherry Blossom.


  11. Thank you for sharing how you did your research. What an interesting book this is, the cover design is absolutely exquisite. I can’t wait to read this book!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are so welcome. Yes the talented cover artist, Katy Betz, did an amazing job showing how beauty can come from the ashes. The moment I saw it, I loved it. 🙂


  12. What a labor of love!


    • Thank you. Yes it certainly was. I’m so glad I could give back to her the love that she gave to me, in spite of all she lost.


  13. I can not wait to read your book.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Helen, Thank you so much. I truly hope you enjoy it.


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