Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Japanese Internment: Picture Book Text Set

The Japanese Internment during World War II was a brief footnote in my high school US History class, and it was something I do not remember learning much about until I became a teacher myself. When my fourth graders reached the WWII section in Social Studies, I made an effort to seek out books at their level to help them understand and grapple with this complex and important topic. Below are a few of my favorite picture book resources for sharing about and discussing Japanese Internment.

Picture Books on Japanese Internment

The Bracelet by Yoshiko Uchida and illustrated by Joanna Yardley. The Bracelet begins with second-grader Emi and her family on the eve of resettlement in the internment camps. Emi receives a bracelet from her friend Laurie but loses it on the way to the camp. Despite the setback, Emi realizes that she can remember Laurie and her papa without it. The story covers only the initial resettlement into a temporary shelter in a horse stable, before the family moves into the actual camp. The author based the story on her and her family's own experiences in internment camps.

A Place Where Sunflowers Grow by Amy Lee-Tai and illustrated by Felicia Hoshino. This honest bilingual book opens with a note from the author providing a brief explanation of internment and her family's personal connection to the story, through her mother's family. The story provides a young girl's perspective on the internment camp, focusing on her experiences trying to express herself through art class. Both the text and illustrations provide hints at some of the darker issues, like the conditions of life in the camps (soldiers with guns, bathrooms without stall doors), but the story ends with an image of hope and the sprouting of Mari's sunflowers.

Flowers from Mariko by Rick Noguchi and Deneen Jenks and illustrated by Michelle Reiko Kumata. Flowers from Mariko begins at the internment camp but the focus is on what happens to the family after the war ends, and they are allowed to leave. Rather than being able to simply go home, the family is resettled in a trailer park after the father discovers that their previous landlord has sold the truck he promised to look after for them. This book is powerful in that it continues the story outside of the camps and explores some of the difficulties that these Japanese-Americans had in readjusting and re-starting their lives again.

So Far from the Sea by Eve Bunting and illustrated by Chris K. Soentpiet. This book takes a more distant perspective, following the Iwasaki family in the modern day as they visit the Manzanar War Relocation Camp, where the narrator's father and his family were interned and where her grandfather is buried. This powerful look back at the impact of internment is told through alternating color (present) and black and white (past) illustrations documenting both time periods. For use with older students as this story raises more hard questions than some of the others.

Barbed Wire Baseball by Marissa Moss and illustrated by Yuko Shimizu. (H/T Linda at Teacher Dance and Kellee at Unleashing Readers). This is the true story of Kenichi "Zeni" Zenimura, a Japanese-American baseball player who was sent to an internment camp. At the camp, Zeni strove to build his own baseball field and inspire hope in a difficult situation. Publisher Abrams Books has a curriculum guide available here.

Dash by Kirby Larson (2014) by Kirby Larson. This middle grade novel features a girl and her family who are sent to an internment camp. Read my full review here.

Do you know of other great picture book resources on Japanese Internment? Please share them in the comments below.

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday Challenge is hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy and is a weekly roundup of educator blogs that are sharing nonfiction picture books. (Most of these internment books are only based around an author or their family's personal experiences, making them historical fiction, rather than strictly memoir.)


  1. Have you read Barbed Wire Baseball? Would be a great addition!
    Thank you for the text set!

    1. I hadn't, but just put in a request from the library - may have to edit the post. Thanks so much, Kellee!

  2. I don't know SUNFLOWER or MARIKO, but am definitely going to look for them. If you don't know BASEBALL SAVED US by Ken Mochizuki, you definitely need to look for that one too!

    1. Thanks so much, Carol. Just finished Barbed Wire Baseball and will put in a request for Baseball Saved Us - thanks for the tip! Hope you enjoy sunflower and Mariko - great floral connections between them.


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