Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Middle Grade & Picture Book Pairings: Japanese Internment

Picture books are one of my favorite ways to build background knowledge about a subject. When I taught US History to fourth graders, I always relied on well-written picture books to help guide and further our discussions. This is the first post in a new series highlighting great middle grade and picture book pairings.

MG & PB Pairings: Japanese Internment

I did not learn about the United States's interment of Japanese-Americans when I was in school. It may have received a sentence in my AP US History book, but if it did, I don't recall any conversation about it. Because this a topic that kids are unlikely to have much background knowledge about, it makes it a great candidate for using both picture books and novels to complement each other.

Dash by Kirby Larson (2004) by Kirby Larson is a highly personal and engaging middle grade historical fiction novel set during World War II. Based on the actual experiences of Mitsue Shiraishi, the story is told from the perspective of 11 year-old Mitsi and picks up right in the thick of it.

The story draws you in immediately, as Mitsi struggles to understand why her friends have started treating her differently, and any student can empathize with growing slights and the difficult dynamics of lunchroom seating. The story gives a detailed picture of this regrettable time in US History, from the initial imprisonment of Japanese men to the deportation and relocation to internment camps of Japanese-American families. The horror is further compounded for Mitsi when she learns that her dear dog Dash will not be allowed to accompany them to the camp.

This book hits on so many issues of importance to late-elementary and middle school readers including issues with friends, rejection, sibling disagreements, and the power of connections with pets. This book would make a great Book Club selection for a whole class or small groups, as there is a lot of potential for discussion and conversations, especially in conjunction with a unit on World War II or Japanese Internment.

Picture Book Pairings: Japanese Internment

The process: saying goodbye and initial resettlement

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 and is based on the author and her family's own experiences in internment camps.

Daily life in internment camps: a child's perspective

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.

Daily life in internment camps: an adult's perspective

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.

Long term impact of internment: connections to the present

In the great span of history, internment is not a distant chapter, and many people alive today have direct personal or family connections. So Far from the Sea by Eve Bunting and illustrated by Chris K. Soentpiet follows 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.

How do you use picture books to provide additional context or information?

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