Best #OwnVoices Japanese American Books for Kids & Teens

by
0 comment

The story of Japanese immigration is also true for my own family history.  Changes in Japan during the Meiji Restoration from 1868 to 1912 wrought great changes in Japan as the country tried to modernize.  The old feudal system of titled landowners has abruptly stripped away, and the daimyo domains of titled landowners were turned into prefectures.   For those families including my own, they were forced to buy back their own lands as some of their lost lands included sacred family burial grounds.  To earn the money, large numbers of Japanese men found work in Hawaii in the pineapple and sugar cane plantations and from there, migrated to the mainland.

Following in the wake of the Chinese immigrants marked the Japanese immigrants as a part of that group, and resulted in a negative attitude towards the Japanese immigrants almost immediately and this negative attitude lasted for more than 50 years.  At war with Japan during WWII brought prejudice and fear of Japanese Americans to new heights and resulted in forced internment camps, a low point for American history.

Throughout it all, Japanese Americans preserved, pushing their children into lucrative careers in the sciences and trying to assimilate post-WWII so that they would encounter less prejudice.  I think this is the reason for a relative dearth of well-known Japanese-American children’s authors, which the one exception being Cynthia Kadohata.  It was strange to me that many important Japanese stories were not told by Japanese Americans.  I tried, therefore, to focus my list on lesser-known authors telling important stories.  I hope this list will inspire more authors in this genre! My list includes Japanese Americans, Japanese Canadians, and Japanese Nationals.

p.s. Japanese Internment Camp Books and My Family’s Story

p.p.s. 21 Wonderful Japanese Folk Tales for Kids

p.p.s. Here’s my debut picture book:

Sumo Joe by Mia Wenjen, illustrated by Nat Iwata

In this sweet and funny story, Sumo Joe and his friends enjoy pretending to be sumo wrestlers. But when his little sister wants to join their boy-only game, what should Sumo Joe do?

On Saturday mornings, Sumo Joe is a gentle big brother to his little sister. But on Saturday afternoons, he and his friends are sumo wrestlers! They tie on makeshift mawashi belts, practice drills like teppo, and compete in their homemade dohyo ring. They even observe sumo’s ultimate rule: no girls allowed! But when Sumo Joe’s little sister wants to join in the fun, Sumo Joe is torn between the two things he’s best at: sumo, and being a big brother.

Fists, feet, and martial art forms collide in this sweet yet spirited rhyming story by author Mia Wenjen and illustrator Nat Iwata.

Best #OwnVoices Japanese American Books for Kids

10. Suki’s Kimono by Chieri Uegaki

Even though Suki’s sisters teaser her, she wears her beloved kimono (yukata) to the first day of school.  It was a gift from her obachan, grandmother, and she has especially fond memories of spending time at an (Obon) street festival dancing with her.  But is it a good idea to look so different? 

9. The Bracelet by Yoshiko Uchida, illustrated by Joanna Yardley

I read this story a long time ago and remembered that it was a particularly sad story of internment that I couldn’t bring myself to read to my girls. The little Japanese girl is given a bracelet by her American friend that she brings to internment camp that gets lost.   

8. A Place Where Sunflowers Grow by Amy Lee-Tai

A bi-lingual (Japanese/English) story about the author’s grandmother who was interned at Topaz and really did grow 8-foot sunflowers in the desert.  A stoic story about coping with internment.  This is the author’s first book. 

7. A Jar of Dreams by Yoshiko Uchida

11-year-old Rinko lives in Berkeley, California during the Great Depression and life isn’t easy, especially when you are Japanese American because she encounters prejudice almost daily. When her family opens a small laundry, their local competitor, a well-known bigot, and bully threatens them.  Things change when her Aunt Waka comes to visit from Japan,  and she helps to convince them to chase their dreams, even if it seems improbable that they will be given the same opportunities as non-Asians.  Despite the prejudice that her family faces, Rinko learns to take pride in her Japanese self.

A Jar of Dreams is an accurate portrait of what life was like for Japanese immigrants pre-WWII, but it also details the determination, hard work, and strong familial bonds that propelled them to succeed. 

6. Are You An Echo? The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko written and translated by David Jacobson, Sally Ito, and Michiko Tsuboi, illustrated by Tshikado Hajiri

All Japanese schoolchildren study the deeply empathetic nature poems of Misuzu Kaneko; her poetry nearly lost due to her short, tragic life. Think of her as the Japanese Pablo Neruda and/or Emily Dickenson. This beautiful picture book chronicles her life and showcases her poetry. It’s a new kind of biography poetry hybrid picture book that is getting 2017 Caldecott buzz.

5. My Grandfather’s Journey by Allen Say

Winner of the 1994 Caldecott Medal, this story of Allen Say’s grandfather chronicles his journey to America and his exploration of it, as well as his return to Japan. Say captures the emotional connection to both countries and the longing to be in both places.

4. Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata

This Newbery Award-winning novel is a Japanese Grapes of Wrath story about the Takashima family as they move from Iowa to Georgia in the 1950s and work menial, grueling jobs at a non-unionized poultry farm.  The three kids, Lynn, Katie, and Sammy,  manage to have fun and dream of better times ahead despite their difficult conditions until Lynn comes down with a fatal illness.  The book manages to portray life for post-WWII Japanese Americans in an insightful and realistic way. 

3. Weedflower by Cynthia Kadohata

From Starred Review, School Library Journal. Grade 5-8–When Pearl Harbor is attacked, the lives of a Japanese-American girl and her family are thrown into chaos. Sumiko, 12, and her younger brother, Tak-Tak, live with their aunt and uncle, grandfather Jiichan, and adult cousins on a flower farm in Southern California. Though often busy with chores, Sumiko enjoys working with the blossoms, particularly stock, or weedflowers (fragrant plants grown in a field). In the difficult days that follow the bombing, the family members fear for their safety and destroy many of their belongings. Then Uncle and Jiichan are taken to a prison camp, and the others are eventually sent to an assembly center at a racetrack, where they live in a horse stable. When they’re moved to the Arizona desert, Sumiko misses the routine of her old life and struggles with despair. New friends help; she grows a garden with her neighbor and develops a tender relationship with a Mohave boy. She learns from him that the camp is on land taken from the Mohave reservation and finds that the tribe’s plight parallels that of the incarcerated Japanese Americans. Kadohata brings into play some complex issues, but they realistically dovetail with Sumiko’s growth from child to a young woman. She is a sympathetic heroine, surrounded by well-crafted, fascinating people. The concise yet lyrical prose conveys her story in a compelling narrative that will resonate with a wide audience.–Marilyn Taniguchi, Beverly Hills Public Library, CA

2. Jasmine Toguchi: Mochi Queen series by Debbi Michiko Florence, illustrated by Elizabet Vukovic

I am so excited about this early chapter book series about a regular girl who happens to be Japanese American. This is NOT set during WWII! There just aren’t enough books set during modern times who happen to be Japanese American! Japanese culture comes through a veil of humor, making this similar to the Alvin Ho series by Lenore Look. In this first book, Jasmine is too young to participate in the New Year’s mochi celebration, but she somehow manages to turn traditions upside down, much to the surprise and admiration of her family. For kids who like the Clementine series by Sara Pennypacker, or Ramona series by Beverly Cleary, there’s a new spunky kid in town, and she’s just as delightful. You’ll want to meet her July 11th, 2017, when this book releases!

1. Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki

Ken Mochizuki’s were interned at Minidoka Internment camp in Idaho, and this is the story based on true events, of how they used baseball to cope.  The little boy in the story is small for his age but preserves to become an excellent player.  The story continues post-internment and things are not better.  Luckily, the boy’s skill in baseball helps to bring everyone together.  This is the author’s first picture book.

More Great #OwnVoices Japanese American Children’s Books 

 

The Other Side of Perfect by Mariko Turk

Alina Keeler was destined to dance, but then a terrifying fall shatters her leg—and her dreams of a professional ballet career along with it.

After a summer healing (translation: eating vast amounts of Cool Ranch Doritos and binging ballet videos on YouTube), she is forced to trade her pre-professional dance classes for normal high school, where she reluctantly joins the school musical. However, rehearsals offer more than she expected—namely Jude, her annoyingly attractive castmate she just might be falling for.

But to move forward, Alina must make peace with her past and face the racism she experienced in the dance industry. She wonders what it means to yearn for ballet—something so beautiful, yet so broken. And as broken as she feels, can she ever open her heart to someone else?

A Fish for Jimmy: Inspired by One Family’s Experience in a Japanese American Internment Camp by Katie Yamasaki

When Taro’s father is taken away for being Japanese American, he and his mother and younger brother are forced into a Japanese Internment camp. Taro’s younger brother won’t eat; he misses the food at home including fresh vegetables and fish. His father told Taro that he must help take care of Jimmy and this weighs heavy on him. Taro cuts a fence and sneaks out of the camp to catch fresh fish in a stream near a mountain with his bare hands. Finally, Jimmy eats. This is the true story of Katie Yamasaki’s family.

Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin by Chieri Uegaki and Qin Leng

Hana is just a beginner at violin but she signed up for the talent show anyway. Her older brothers laugh in derision. But Hana feels a connection to music because her grandfather in Japan — Ojichan — was a professional violinist and taught her that the sounds the violin makes can mimic nature. Hana is nervous the night of her performance; will her brothers turn out to be right? I’d gift this picture book to any child learning to play an instrument, particularly the violin!

Where Are My Books by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Spencer loves to read. He reads a book every night. But one morning his favorite book goes missing, and in its place is a tulip. Spencer searches high and low, but he can’t find his book.

The next morning another book is missing, a nut in its place. And the morning after that, another book is missing.

What is happening to Spencer’s books? When he finds out, Spencer devises a surprising solution that will delight readers (and librarians) everywhere.

Other books by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Daruma Doll BookYoko-Chan and the Daruma Doll: The Adventures of a Blind Japanese Girl Who Saves Her Village by Sunny Seki

An orphaned blind girl lives at the Daruma Temple near an active volcano that erupted and damaged the surrounding villages and destroyed all the crops. She got an idea to create Daruma dolls based on frozen water in a gourd that kept it upright. She turned these into a doll with an inscription, “If you fall down seven times, you should get up eight times!” Today the Daruma dolls of Takasaki are the most famous in all of Japan.

Books by Ruth Ohi

Pizza Day by Melissa Iwai

On a sunny, summer day, a young boy and his father assemble the ingredients for a homemade pizza. From gathering fresh garden herbs to rolling out the dough for a crust to spreading on sauce and cheese, this picture book leads young chefs step-by-step through the process of making a favorite meal.

More books by Melissa Iwai

The Last Kappa of Old Japan: A Magical Journey of Two Friends by Sunny Seki

Have you ever eaten a cucumber roll at a sushi restaurant? You might not have realized it, but you were exposed to Kappas! Kappas are mythological creatures in Japanese folk tales who can cause trouble for humans. They are believed to be messengers of the god of water.

This is a Japanese “Lorax” folktale with a cautionary message about taking care of our earth! A human boy and a young Kappa become unlikely friends and their friendship is tested when the Kappa must move away when industrialization pollutes the boy’s town. Years later, the boy (now a man) calls upon his old friend when his baby falls into a rapidly moving stream.

You’ll have to read this tale to find out how cucumber rolls relate to this story!

I Live in Tokyo by Mari Takabayashi

Learn about Japan with Mimiko in this charming picture book that takes the reader through the sights and cuisine of Tokyo.

Umbrella by Taro Yashima

With Japanese words throughout, this is a sweet and gentle story of a little girl, Momo (peach in Japanese),  who is excited to use her new present of an umbrella and new rain boots.

Tea With Milk by Allen Say

May’s parents return to Japan and it’s a tough adjustment for her to make.  She prefers her tea with milk and sugar but in Japan, she must drink green tea, go to high school all over again to learn to be a proper Japanese lady and assume her Japanese name, Masako.  Finally, she rebels and moves to Osaka where she gets a job and meets a man that prefers his tea with milk and sugar.  This is the love story of Alan Say’s parents.

The Inn-Keepers Apprentice by Allen Say

I tire a little of all the WWII internment storylines.  I do think it’s important, but there is more to the Japanese American experience than just that period of time. When I found this book at the library, I was surprised that Allen Say wrote middle-grade fiction. I always thought of him as a picture book illustrator and author. I read the book, expecting not to like it, and was pleasantly surprised to find that it kept my interest. First of all, though the book is set in post-WWII Japan, the book focuses on a coming-of-age story of a middle-grade boy who is unusual for many reasons.  His mother comes from a Samurai aristocratic background but married a Korean.  Then got divorced! That is very unusual for this time. And the boy is determined to apprentice with a famous cartoonist. I wondered if the story rang so true because it was Say’s own story. I finished the book, satisfied by a good read, and then researched it.  Yes, it is his own story, and what a fascinating person he is!

More books by Allen Say

(Amulet series) Supernova by Kazu Kibuishi

Emily has lost control of her Amulet and is imprisoned in the Void, where she must find a way to escape the influence of the Voice. Meanwhile, Emily’s brother, Navin, travels to Lighthouse One, a space station where the Resistance is preparing to battle the approaching Shadow forces that would drain planet Alledia of all its resources. Emily and Navin must be smarter and stronger than ever to ensure Alledia’s survival.

Fred Korematsu Speaks Up (Fighting for Justice series) by Laura Atkins and Stan Yogi, illustrated by Yutaka Houlette

This series celebrates real-life heroes and heroines of social progress. This is Fred’s story of standing up for justice by refusing to go to Japanese Internment camps for simply being of Japanese descent. He went to jail for resisting and his courage made the United States a fairer place for all Americans.

Temple Alley Summer by Sachiko Kashiwaba, illustrated by Miho Satake, translated by Avery Udagawa

Review by Ms. Yingling Reads:

“This is a very gentle ghost story that brings in snippets of Japanese religion and culture, daily life, and an interesting connection to a story. Kazu is just an ordinary boy who finds himself in an odd circumstance, and he does his best to investigate and understand it. I loved the little funny things, like his mother being so irritated that the men from the neighborhood association visit and that she has to make lunch for Kazu during the summer. (And that ramen is the quick, go-to lunch, instead of a peanut butter sandwich!) There are some good friend connections, especially with Akari. I especially loved the depiction of Daisy magazine and the young writer whom Kazu manages to track down.”

An Illustrated History of Japan by Shigeo Nishimura

A gorgeously illustrated history of Japan.  It would be a great reference book, particularly to look through for the artwork.  Each period of history is briefly detailed.   

More books by Cynthia Kadohata

More books by Yoshiko Uchida

More books by Ken Mochizuki

Dust of Eden by Mariko Nagai

I’ve read many picture books at the Japanese American internment (my mother was one such person forced to relocate during WWII) but Nagai’s novel in verse is the first to really make me feel and understand the racism that my mother, who was born in San Francisco’s Japantown, faced. (And it makes my blood boil.)

… I would change my hair color into a honey

 

blond that changes into lighter

shades of almost white during the summer,

just like Jamie’s. If I could change

my name, if I could change my parents,

 

I could change my life. I would be an American.

But I already am.

Nagai’s haunting novel in verse chronicles the Mina Tagawa’s family after the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor. Her father is held in prison without charges, her grandfather suffers in stoic silence, her older brother’s anger, and her mom’s graceful pride not to let racism destroy them. They are forced from Seattle to Camp Harmony and then to Minidoka Relocation Center in Idaho, losing three years of their lives and much, much more.

More on Minidoka Relocation Center.

During WWII, more than 110,000 Japanese Americans were forced from their homes after President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 in February 1942 in response to prejudiced fears that Japanese Americans were spies.

These Japanese Americans lost everything: their bank accounts were frozen, their homes and businesses, and all that they owned save for two bags they were allowed to take. Like Mina’s brother Nick in this book, my mother’s brother also joined the 442nd regiment composed almost entirely of Japanese Americans. The 442nd Regiment was the most decorated unit for its size and length of service in the history of American warfare.

In 1988 when most internees were dead, the U.S. Government paid reparations to the surviving internees. My mother used hers to buy a Lexus which she drove until she could no longer operate a car.

You may not have heard of civil rights hero, Fred T. Korematsu.

In 1942, at the age of 23, he refused to go to the government’s incarceration camps for Japanese Americans. After he was arrested and convicted of defying the government’s order, he appealed his case all the way to the Supreme Court. In 1944, the Supreme Court ruled against him, arguing that the incarceration was justified due to military necessity.

In 1983, Prof. Peter Irons, a legal historian, together with researcher Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga, discovered key documents that government intelligence agencies had hidden from the Supreme Court in 1944. The documents consistently showed that Japanese Americans had committed no acts of treason to justify mass incarceration.

With this new evidence, a pro-bono legal team that included the Asian Law Caucus re-opened Korematsu’s 40-year-old case on the basis of government misconduct. On November 10, 1983, Korematsu’s conviction was overturned in a federal court in San Francisco. It was a pivotal moment in civil rights history. From Korematsu Institute

Dust of Eden forces us to remember what happened and one hopes it will not happen again to anyone, but that’s only if we truly learn from our mistakes.

Jet Black and the Ninja Wind by Leza Lowitz and Shogu Oketani

Jet Black isn’t sure why she wakes up in the middle of the night to train mysteriously in the ways of the ninja for as long as she can remember. Her training includes mastering how to walk on wet tissue paper without tearing it or making a sound and other such impossible tasks. Jet never really understood the purpose of her training, but when her mother dies, she is sent on a mission to save a secret family treasure back in Japan.

There are bad guys out to get her and her newfound Japanese family (also well-trained as ninjas). But why is the person who is responsible for capturing her so alluring? This YA action-adventure love story is non-stop action as Jet fights to save a sacred mountain in Japan.

The Last Cherry Blossom by Kathleen Burkinshaw

Review from The Children’s War:

The Last Cherry Blossom is a story of unfathomable loss, but also of hope, resilience, and survival. Paired with Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, both these stories should stand as a cautionary tale about war and the use of what we would now call weapons of mass destruction, and never forget that, as Burkinshaw reminds us in her Afterword, “the victims were all someone’s mother, father, brother, sister, or child.”  It was true then and is still true today. 

Japanese American Books for Kids Honorable Mentions

These books are not #OwnVoices, but I highly recommend them.

So Far From the Sea by Eve Bunting

Laura Iwasaki and her family visit her grandfather’s grave at the Manzanar War Relocation Center where he died during internment.  Both her parents were relocated though at different camps.  Her father was a little boy when this happened and this marks the last time they will visit before moving to Boston.  Their final visit sums up the attitude of most Japanese-Americans who were forced to relocate:  a terrible thing that happened to them.   But, as the Dad says, “Sometimes, in the end, there is no right or wrong.  It is just a thing that happened long years ago.  A thing that cannot be changed.” 

Hiromi’s Hands by Lynne Barasch

Hiromi Suzuki was one of the first female sushi chefs in New York in a profession that was always male-dominated because the common belief was that a woman’s soft warm hands would ruin the fish. At age 8, she convinced her father to take her to the Fulton fish market and from there, she worked her way up from scrubbing the kitchen floor, to making rice, to finally cutting fish. Eventually, she mastered every kind of sushi!

Yoko’s Paper Cranes by Rosemary Wells

Rosemary Well’s has incorporated traditional Japanese art themes into her luscious illustrations about Yoko communicating with her grandparents back in Japan.  A sweet and endearing story. 

Tokyo Friends by Betty Reynolds

Katie is a young American girl living in modern-day Tokyo.  Spend time with Katie and her Japanese friends learning about Japanese culture, holidays, and the Japanese language. And the story rhymes! 

Write to Me: Letters from Japanese American Children to the Librarian They Left Behind by Cynthia Grady, illustrated by Amiko Hirao

A touching story about Japanese American children who corresponded with their beloved librarian while they were imprisoned in World War II internment camps.

From The Children’s War:

Write to Me is the story of one San Diego librarian, Clara Breed, who saw the injustice of incarcerating innocent people and whole families and tried to make it somewhat bearable for her young library patrons. Grady begins with the sad moment when young Katherine Tasaki has to return her books and relinquish her library card. Later, seeing the children she knew from the library off at the train station, Miss Breed gave out books and stamped postcards for the kids to write and let her know-how and where they are and if they needed anything.”

“Though it is for a somewhat older child, with scaffolding teachers might want to pair this with I Am An American by Jerry Stanly, for a more rounded picture of Japanese American internment camps.

The Peace Tree from Hiroshima: Little Bonsai with a Big Story by Sandra Moore, illustrated by Kazumi Wilds

Itaro, Wijiro, Somegoro, and Marusu — four generations of Yamaki men — took care of the special bonsai tree from Miyajima. When the atomic bomb exploded in Hiroshima, it was just two miles away from their home. The Yamaki family decides to gift their precious bonsai tree to the United States in a gesture of hope and peace. It resides today in the National Arboretum in Washington. Masaru’s grandson Akira visited it and thus the circle continues. A tree that inspires peace.

Sylvia and Aki by Winifred Conkling

This is one of the best middle-grade books to understand WWII Internment and the Civil Rights Movement in California when young Sylvia Mendez is the center of a legal battle for school desegregation. Intersected into this story is Aki Munemitsu who is sent to Internment Camp for being Japanese American. This is a true story! Pair with Separate is Never Equal for more about Sylvia’s story in this landmark case well before Brown versus Board of Education of Topeka.

White Crane (Samurai Kids series) by Sandy Fussell, illustrated by Rhian Nest James 

If you have a physical disability, can you still train in the hand-to-hand combat martial arts of a ninja or a samurai warrior? White Crane or Niya Moto has only one leg and the samurai school — Cockroach Ryu — he ends up joining all have a physical disability that makes them the underdogs of the Samurai Trainee Games which the Dragons also seem to win. Those Dragons are bullies of the worst kind. Do the ragtag Cockroaches have a chance?

Hiro’s Quest series by Tracey West, illustrated by Craig Phillips

My son delighted in this easy chapter book series when he was in first and second grade about a Japanese ninja family with special abilities to turn into their spirit animal.

Moonshadow: The Rise of the Ninja series by Simon Higgins

Set in Japan during the time of the Shogun rule, Moonshadow is an orphan adopted into the Grey Light Order, a secret ninja group loyal to the Shogun. He must stop a hungry Daimyo (warlord) from developing a powerful new weapon from the west that would threaten the fragile peace finally established in Japan.

We used this for a family book activity!

Flying the Dragon by Natalie Dias Lorenzi

Finally, a Japanese-American chapter book set after WWII! Lorenzi wraps her story around kite flying, connecting two cousins: Hiroshi, a boy from Japan, and Skye a hapa girl (half Japanese/half Caucasian) in Washington, D.C. In kite fighting, you have to know when to loosen the line to keep the kite afloat just as it seems like it’s going to fall out of the sky. Skye and Hiroshi’s grandfather know that balance, in life and in kite fighting. By moving to D.C. for cancer treatments, the grandfather has a chance to repair his relationship with Skye’s dad, whose marriage to a non-Japanese woman caused a family feud.

Skye too must learn to “loosen the line.” She’s caught between having to help her cousin navigate his way through a new school, learning both English and American customs, while also resenting him. She’s never really felt different having grown up American, but now there is this tug towards her Japanese heritage including being forced to learn Japanese which might cost her place on her All-Star soccer camp.

Still, she cherishes spending time with Grandpa and learning about kite building and kite fighting. Will kite flying and the upcoming kite battle at the National Cherry Blossom Festival bring the cousins closer together or tear them apart?

Paper Wishes by Lois Sepahban

10-year-old Manami tries to sneak her dog into internment camp when her family is separated during WWII due to anti-Japanese American laws enacted. She and her parents and grandfather must leave Bainbridge Island in Washington for a dreary camp in the desert of California. They lose everything they own, save for a suitcase they can carry. Manami loses even more; her voice is gone from the trauma and she doesn’t speak after her dog is taken away. The riot in Manzanar is not well known in U.S. history, and this chapter book gives back some of the humanity taken away from the Japanese Americans who were forced into concentration camps for simply looking like the enemy.

Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr

A story about post-bombing Hiroshima where Sadako, who loves to run, becomes ill due to the radiation from the bomb.  It is believed in Japan that folding a thousand paper cranes brings girls good luck and good health. 

One Thousand Paper Cranes: The Story of Sadako and the Children’s Peace Statue by Ishii Takayuki

A nonfiction companion book to Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, this tells the story of how Sadako’s peace statue came to be. Sadako had actually folded more than 1,500 paper cranes before dying at age 12. She was in 7th grade. Her classmates rallied and created a movement so broad in trying to raise money for a marker for Sakado that, in the end, they had raised an astounding $450,000! Her memorial statue stands today in Hiroshima at the Peace Memorial Park.

A Thousand Cranes: Origami Projects for Peace and Happiness by Florence Temko

Now that you can fold origami cranes (I have a video below), here are some ideas for what to do with them. This book includes forty-eight tear-out sheets of colorful chiyogami to get you started.

Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus

Pair this is Samurai Rising for another historical fiction perspective of life during feudal Japan. This is the true story of a young fisherman boy, 14-year-old Nakahama Manjirō, and his four friends who were shipwrecked on the island Torishima. Their rescue by an American whaling boat brought them on a journey to America. Manjiro returns to Japan years later, arriving at a critical point in Japanese history and playing a pivotal role. Can a simple fisherman become a samurai nobleman?  

Of Nightingales That Weep by Katherine Paterson

Set during imperial Japan, a daughter of a Samurai slain in battle leaves her home after her mother marries beneath her, to take a position in the imperial court. Her beautiful voice captures the heart of a young warrior, Hideo, but as war breaks out, she learns he is an enemy spy. The daughter of a samurai never cries, and she must make the difficult choice between loyalty and love.

Samurai Rising: The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune by Pamela S. Turner, illustrated by Gareth Hinds

Historical fiction has never been this exciting as the rise and fall of an unlikely battle hero, Minamoto Yoshitsune, who carved a piece of history for himself as Japan’s most famous samurai warrior. He played a huge role in the rise of the Minamoto clan which also marked a new epoch in Japanese history, the Heian period when powerful aristocratic families ruled due to a weak emperor. Meticulously historically accurate but written with a modern voice, this is a historical fiction novel of blood, guts, and decapitations to satisfy those who want real-life action and adventure.

Fred Korematsu: All American Hero by Anupam Chander, Madhavi Sunder, and  Angelia Loi

Using a comic book format, this book tells the story of Fred Korematsu, a mild-mannered ordinary welder working in a shipyard who fights for justice during WWII. 

The Journal of Ben Uchida: Citizen 13559, Mirror Lake Internment Camp by Barry Denenberg

“Ben spent his twelfth and thirteenth years in a Japanese internment camp at desolate Mirror Lake, even though he was born in America, had never been to Japan, and could speak few Japanese words. He records his experiences and emotions in this fictional journal. At the camp, residents lived like prisoners, with barbed wire and armed guards everywhere. He writes about the sadness and frustrations of life in the camp, but also about some positive things, like playing on the camp baseball team. Historical notes and photographs are provided at the end. As with many books in this popular series, this title will help personalize this important event in American history.”

Gaijin: American Prisoner of War by Matt Falkner

Families were separated based on their ethnicity as in this Japanese Internment story in which half Japanese Koji Miyamoto is sent to Internment camp while his white mother is allowed to stay in San Francisco. Being half white at camp is just as difficult as being half Japanese in California. This is a true story based on Matt’s aunt’s life.

Remembering Manzanar: Life in a Japanese Relocation Camp by Michael Cooper

“Loaded with haunting photographs and quotes from former residents (which were published in their newspaper, the Manzanar Free Press), this nonfiction title describes and provides photographs of the Manzanar Internment Camp and the living conditions and daily lives of the Japanese Americans who were interned there.”

I Am An American by Jerry Stanley

“The Japanese-American experience during WWII is illustrated in this sad tale of one of America’s darkest times. Focusing on what happened to one high-school boy, the author relates Shi Nomura’s experiences to the main events of the bombing, war panic, removals to camps, return to their devastated homes, and the official government apology.”

Four-Four-Two by Dean Hughes

Review from Ms. YingLing Reads:

Yuki lives on a farm in California, and right after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, things get bad. His father is taken away, and the family ends up at internment after having to sell the farm. Despite this, Yuki and his friend Shig both feel that they should join the army, and end up training in the South and deployed to Italy with the 442nd “Go For Broke” regiment. This group saw horrendous action and was involved in a lot of fighting. Yuki sees many of his comrades fall on the field of battle, and sees others gravely injured. He suffers wounds himself and also battles crippling pain in his feet due to having to remain in wet footwear in the cold. Eventually, a bullet and a collapsed lung send him home, where he faces prejudice in a Colorado barbershop and returns to his family in the internment camp.

Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story by Caren Stelson

Review by Ms. YingLing Reads:

Sachiko Yasui was six years old when the US dropped the atomic bomb on Nagasaki. Miraculously, she survived with minimal immediate wounds, as did her parents, three siblings, and an uncle. While they struggled with housing, food and general survival for quite some time, the real problem was the after-effects of the radiation. Her brothers and uncle succumbed quickly, and cancer eventually took her sister and father as well. At the time of publication, however, Sachiko was still alive. She chose not to speak about her experiences until after the death of her mother in 1992.

This book tells her story in an informative and yet gripping way. The historical background of the war is explained in understandable ways and adds depth to the narrative. Period photos, ads, and other documents are all helpful in explaining the larger picture, and the bibliography will help students find other books on the topic.

This would be an excellent companion book to Kathleen Burkinshaw’s The Last Cherry Blossom and is best read after that book since it picks up near the end of that fictional title. At 112 pages, it is a perfect length, and I’m excited to have this title to offer to students who either are interested in this time period OR are being “forced” to read nonfiction for class. Both types of students will be pleased with this.

To examine any of the items listed, please click on image of item.

As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Follow PragmaticMom’s board Multicultural Books for Kids on Pinterest.


p.s. Related posts:

Japanese American books for kids

Obon Spirit Boats & Obon Children’s Books

21 Wonderful Japanese Folk Tales

Japanese Internment Books for Kids

Learning About Japan Picture Books for Kids

For your young ninja, books to learn about Japan.

Connecting Science and Art: Hokusai’s The Great Wave

It’s amazing how a single piece of art can have a ripple effect, inspiring others all around the world and for many generations.

In Memory of Hiroshima Bombing Books and Crane Origami for Kids

Top 10: Japanese American Children’s Books (ages 2-16)

WWII Internment seems to dominate Japanese American books for kids. I agree that it is an important lesson in history — my own mother was forced to relocate but I also hunger for books that explore other facets of being Japanese American.

Let’s Go Fly a Kite!

Kite flying is an important ritual in Asia and I’ve rounded up every great kite flying book thanks to a little help from my friends and readers.

Best Bilingual Japanese Books for Kids

This was my response to a reader request.

Japan: Books for Kids on Shogun, Family Crests, Block Prints

I explore my own Japanese history in this post.

Japanese American Post Internment Story: Journey Home (ages 8-12)

These older books explore the Japanese American internment experience during WWII, a shameful chapter in America’s history.

Pearl Harbor Day Books for Kids

A Unit to Learn About the Tokyo Olympics

My books:

BEST #OWNVOICES CHILDREN’S BOOKS: My Favorite Diversity Books for Kids Ages 1-12 is a book that I created to highlight books written by authors who share the same marginalized identity as the characters in their books.

Related Posts

Leave a Comment