Over the last five years, I’ve felt very drawn to learning about the Japanese Internment. The topic was introduced to our 6th grade ELA classes as a unit and the department asked me find supplemental material. As I delved into the topic, I realized how little about the Japanese Internment I had learned in school. I wasn’t sure it was more than a paragraph in our textbooks. Last summer, George Takei’s They Called Us Enemy was released, and more and more books are on the way so that we can teach students a shameful but important part of our history.
By Kiku Hughes
First Second Books, August 2020
Ages 10 and up
When Kiku goes to San Francisco for a vacation with her mother, she is pulled back in time to her grandmother’s era, the early 1940s. She comes back almost immediately, but it happens again and again, until she seems to be stuck in the time period, as her grandmother and her family and many other Japanese Americans are incarcerated during World War II.
As Kiku resigns herself to being in the time period, she tries to manage life in the camps. She watches others, some who want to protest and stand up for themselves, others who keep their heads down until it’s all over. Kiku doesn’t make much contact with her grandmother. She is afraid. But she watches her grandmother’s grace and bravery.
This book reminded me a bit of Jane Yolen’s The Devil’s Arithmetic, which used a similar plot device to bring a character back in time to learn about the Holocaust. Both characters need to connect to their heritage. Both titles help readers connect with a history.
Hughes uses soft colors to mimic the feel of the desert, where so many of the displacement camps were located. There is a haunting and lonely feel to the art, which is how Kiku feels during her displacement, because she isn’t certain she will ever go back to her own time.
Young readers will pick this up to read and breeze through the story, but it deserves some loving attention. Booktalks and displays will help this title find additional readers. In my school’s curriculum, it will be another title to connect to a robust work of literature.
About Esther Keller
Esther Keller is the librarian at William E. Grady CTE HS in Brooklyn, NY. In addition, she curates the Graphic Novel collection for the NYC DOE Citywide Digital Library. She started her career at the Brooklyn Public Library and later jumped ship to the school system so she could have summer vacation and a job that would align with a growing family's schedule. On the side, she is a mother of 4 and regularly reviews for SLJ. In her past life, she served on the Great Graphic Novels for Teens Committee where she solidified her love and dedication to comics and worked in the same middle school library for 20 years.
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