A beautifully written, touching picture book about a shameful period of American history is “Write to Me: Letters from Japanese American Children to the Librarian They Left Behind” by Cynthia Grady and illustrated by Amiko Hirao.
The book includes pictures from that time of children wearing identification tags and families with their belongings (they were only allowed to bring what they could carry). At the heart of the story is Clara Breed, a children’s librarian in San Diego County where many Japanese American families lived. She formed relationships with her patrons, and when they told her that they were going to be imprisoned because they were of Japanese descent, she gave them postcards so they could keep in contact with her.
But Breed did more than just write the children she knew. She sent them books and care packages. She visited them before they were relocated yet again to Arizona. The postcards share the living conditions of those imprisoned children.
“It is 120 in the shade.”
Another postcard shared the information that for 1,600 people, there was one large shower and one laundry room. Some were housed in stables until shelters could be built. All lost their homes, their businesses, and their farms. They left the camps years later with nothing — and nowhere to go.
There is more information at the back of the book, including the Author’s Note, which shares more about the life of Clara Breed, a page of Notable Dates in Clara Breed’s Life, a page of Selected History of Japanese People in the United States, Source notes, Selected Bibliography, Further Reading and Photo credits.
The illustrations are done in colored pencil and are mostly in shades of blue and purple. The drawings are not bright or lively; instead, the colors and drawings seem appropriately somber. One double page spread shows four excerpts from postcards with headlines from that time drawn in the background like “Japanese American Church Burns.”
This story seems especially appropriate in this time of taking immigrants and separating children from their parents, shutting them up in warehouses, literally, where they sleep on concrete floors like the stables and substandard accommodations the Japanese Americans were forced to endure. While we teach children that we study history so that we don’t make the same mistakes we made in the past, those mistakes — punishing people for the color of their skin or the language they speak — seem to be running rife in our country right now.
Books like this one and other books featuring diversity are more important than ever.
Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by Charlesbridge, the publisher, for review purposes.