Yonder by Ali Standish

Happy Tuesday! I always love, love, love when Ali Standish stops by to celebrate books. Today, she's here to discuss Yonder, ringer washers, boiled custard, Tae Keller, and more. I wrote the words in purple, and Ali wrote the words in black. Thank you, Ali! 

Leo Nickoll’s cover illustration and Laura Mock’s cover design for Yonder took my breath away completely the first time I saw it. Actually, it still takes my breath away whenever I pull it up to gaze upon it, which is often. ☺ It absolutely captures the mystery and feeling I want the story to convey. All of my books are, in some sense, about a young person who is standing on the precipice of something, who is forced to make a leap into the unknown. The poignancy of that moment really comes through in this artwork. And there are so many incredible details woven into the scene—birds and a bike in the shadows, war planes flying in the far-off distance. It’s the kind of rich, beautiful, compelling cover that I am irresistibly drawn to in a bookstore.

Yonder tells the story of (nearly) thirteen-year-old Danny Timmons, who was born and raised in the small mountain town of Foggy Gap, North Carolina. His life is upended when his father enlists in World War II, and then again when his friend, Jack Bailey, goes missing. Jack is an older boy and a bit of a local hero, so Danny idolizes him like he might an older brother. Jack has lived his whole life under the shadow of his abusive father, and Danny worries at first that Mr. Bailey might be responsible for his son’s disappearance. But Jack leaves behind one clue alluding to Yonder, a magical-sounding town where everyone lives in peace and harmony. But such a place can’t really exist—can it?

Danny’s investigation leads him to a broader search for the truth about his town, our country, and the war. Most of all, he is forced to confront the way his actions—and sometimes inactions—have had an impact on the people around him. He sees how many little wrongs can lead to a much greater one. But is it too late to fix his mistakes?

Do you know what a spring house is? Or a ringer washer? Boiled custard? Did you know that families used to leave a card in their window to tell the ice deliveryman how many pounds of ice they needed for their ice box? Or that florists used to deliver flowers with a logo of the Roman god Mercury to signal their fast delivery capabilities? That the navy refused to enlist colorblind recruits? That Sunday school used to happen before church services? That if you got caught speeding during years when fuel was rationed, your license plate would be printed in the local paper? That when the circus rolled into town, the elephants and other large animals would often be marched right through town to the circus grounds?

These are all things I found out through my research for Yonder (see more below!). And that’s just the tip of the iceberg! Talk to the older people in your life. Their histories are rich and their insights great.

Tae Keller is one of those authors whose books I will buy and read as soon as they come out, then keep them on my shelves forever. And also give as gifts to all the kids in my life. Her novels are full of heart and empathy, and they sparkle with magic. Seriously. They have magic in them, but they’re also magical—they jump off the page and come alive. And…she is every bit as lovely as her stories are! I’m thrilled that she enjoyed reading Danny’s story.

John Schu, you should have asked me what the research process was like! I spent months reading about everything from the Roosevelt administration to the Double V campaign to how draft boards operated. I quickly discovered that there is an immense amount of material out there about the war itself, but comparatively little that explores what life was like on the American home front. To fill in those blanks, I bought issues of Time and Life magazines from the 1940s and flipped through to get a sense for what people were thinking about and talking about.

My favorite part of the process by far, though, was collecting oral histories from people who remember that time. I interviewed family members, neighbors, and strangers who volunteered to share their memories with me. It was fascinating to hear what had stuck with them after all these years. Some remembered being afraid and getting the devastating news that a relative had been killed. Others remembered listening to the radio to Roosevelt’s fireside chats. One remembered waking up in the middle of the night to hear church bells ringing. Her family thought the bells signaled an imminent invasion, but soon realized they were ringing to announce VE day.

The one thing they all remembered was the sense of unity and dedication people had to the war effort. We recognize the sacrifices made by those who fought of course, but people at home had to make real sacrifices, too. They rationed goods like sugar, flour, coffee, and even shoes. They bought things used instead of new. They grew their own food in their victory gardens, and collected every bit of scrap metal they could find to be melted down and used in the war effort. Kids asked for war bonds instead of toys for Christmas, and walked to school when buses ran out of fuel. Factories that made clothes started making parachutes. Women who had never worked before took jobs in munitions plants. Entire towns participated in blackout drills.

As Yonder explores, the story of America in WWII is not just one of heroism. Sadly, the nation did not embrace many of the values at home that it fought for abroad. Black, Japanese-American, and other non-white service members returned home to find that the rights they had secured for others overseas were still being denied to them in their own country. It’s important that we think critically about this era rather than simply romanticizing it.

But I do think we can draw inspiration from the way people worked together and pitched in to make a difference. They understood that winning the war was more important than individual preferences and priorities. They made rapid, radical changes to their lives to help the Allies secure victory. And that should be a reminder to us all about the power of community and collective action.

THANK YOU, Mr. Schu!!!

THANK YOU, Ali!!! 

Ali Standish, author of the critically acclaimed The Ethan I Was Before, August Isle, and Bad Bella, grew up in North Carolina and spent several years as an educator in the Washington, DC, public school system. She has an MFA in children’s writing from Hollins University and an MPhil in children’s literature from the University of Cambridge. She lives in Raleigh with her husband, Aki, and their two rescue dogs, Bella and Keeper. You can visit her online at www.alistandish.com.

Look for Yonder on May 3, 2022.


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