I know there is a lot of speculation in the press; there is talk in the media of registration for Muslim immigrants and Muslim Americans, fear of a registry, and even reference to the World War Two internment of Japanese Americans. It is hard to know what are real plans from the incoming president and what is just talk.
As an educator, an immigrant, and a woman with a degree in history my first reaction is to educate. If you aren’t familiar with the horrors of the past, you are doomed to repeat them. I live on Bainbridge Island in Washington State and while it’s a lovely island with great schools part of its past is shameful, it’s terrible, and because we never want to repeat it we educate our children about it. On March 30th, 1942 Bainbridge Island was the first community to send community members to camps, 227 Japanese Americans were ordered to leave their homes, and it can not happen again.
Here are books about Japanese Internment Camps for children. Parents and educators who want to teach their children about this very important and very horrific part of North American history or learn about it themselves can use these very accessible, touching, and historical books as tools.
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So Far From The Sea by Eve Bunting will make you cry, well it makes me cry just thinking about the story. A family returns to Manzanar internment camp where their grandfather and father died. As they visit the grave, the parents tell stories about the challenges, injustice, and life inside the fence of these “camps.” If you are familiar with this author, you know that she has a beautiful gift for getting to the gut issue and reaching her reader’s emotions. This book is no exception. She gets to the very deepest part of how unjust this was and still manages to create some hope in readers as well. Do not miss the historical notes after the story, read and discuss these after making an emotional connection with the beautiful story.
A Place Where Sunflowers Grow by Amy Lee-Tai is about a little girl living in an internment camp and who is struggling to see any beauty in the world. While this book focuses more on a single child’s experience than the greater historical perspective, I think it’s a good companion to more non-fictional portrayals as children will relate to Mari and her feelings. I like that the text is in both English and Japanese as well.
Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki is such an important book for children to read. This book is all about how baseball helped keep children and families busy at Minidoka the internment camp in Idaho during world War Two. A lot of adults don’t know much if anything about this part of American history and this book is a good place to start teaching your child about it. From a child’s perspective readers see the injustice and grief during and after confinement. Although my son knows a good bit about Japanese internment during WWII, this book personalized it for him and baseball gave him something to connect him to the boys in the story.
The Bracelet by Yoshiko Uchida is a brilliant book because it sets the stage to teach children that the Americans that were detained and imprisoned in these internment camps were not villains they were Americans living just like other Americans. Emi is given a bracelet from her best friend to remember her while she is away. The bracelet is lost, and after some time Emi realizes that she doesn’t need a thing to remember a friend. The greater imagery for me is that the bracelet is what links her to the free world and even though she is American, the government can’t see that, just like she can no longer see the bracelet. However, it is inside her, despite the inhumane treatment she is receiving her sense of self and connection to her life outside the fence is there with or without the bracelet.
Fish For Jimmy by Katie Yamasaki is a story about grief and love. Jimmy is grieving his home, his father who is not with his family as they are taken from their home to be detained in an internment camp for Japanese Americans. His older brother Taro was told by his father that he must take care of the family in his absence and that’s exactly what he does. His brother’s grief materializes as refusing to eat unfamiliar foods and Taro risks his safety to sneak out of the camp to get his brother fish. It is a story of bravery and love in the face of great adversity and injustice.
Do you know of a picture book that deals with the internment of Japanese Americans? I would love to keep this list growing. Leave a comment with the title and a mini-review if you do.