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. 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. War with Japan during WWII brought prejudice and fear of Japanese Americans to new heights and resulted in forced internment camps, a low point in 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.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. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Best #OwnVoices Japanese American Books for Kids
10. Suki’s Kimono by Chieri Uegaki
Even though Suki’s sisters tease her, she wears her beloved kimono (yukata) on 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? [picture book, ages 4-7]
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. [picture book, ages 8-12]
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. [picture book, ages 7-11]
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 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. [chapter book, ages 10-14]
More books by Yoshiko Uchida
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 was 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. [poetry/biography picture book, ages 4 and up]
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. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
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. [middle grade, ages 10-14]
More books by Cynthia Kadohata
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 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 a 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. [chapter book, ages 12-16]
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 that 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 the 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 on July 11th, 2017, when this book is released! [early chapter book, ages 6 and up]
Betty the Bearded Dragon (My Furry Foster Friends series) by Debbi Michiko Florence, illustrated by Melanie Demmer
“Eight-year-old Kaita Takano and her family are old pros at fostering rescued dogs and cats from the local animal shelter. But they’ve got their work cut out for them when a beautiful bearded dragon with plenty of attitude arrives at their doorstep. Even though Kaita narrates the rollicking adventure, this charmingly illustrated chapter book is all about Betty!” [early chapter book series, ages 5 and up]
Niki Nakayama: A Chef’s Tale in 13 Bites by Jamie Michalak and Debbi Michiko Florence, illustrated by Yuko Jones
Niki Nakayama: A Chef’s Tale in 13 Bites is a picture book biography that tells the story of the powerhouse female Japanese-American chef and her rise to fame. [picture book biography, ages 4 and up]
Keep It Together, Keiko Carter by Debbi Michiko Florence
“Seventh grade is supposed to be a game changer. And Keiko thinks she’s got it covered, especially with Audrey and Jenna by her side to shop for a new look, pick out a prime lunch spot, and even hit up that cute new bubble tea place after school. Her trio is ready to tackle life as they always have… together. But when Audrey decides they need boyfriends before Fall Ball, it looks like things may be changing in all the wrong ways. Jenna is sick of caving into Audrey’s demands, and soon Keiko’s besties are barely talking, leaving her caught in the middle. While she’s been dreaming about triple dates, first kisses, and a boy she really shouldn’t have a crush on, the friendship she’s always thought was rock-solid is beginning to crumble. Keiko feels pulled in two directions. Should she try to help her friends — even if it means losing one of them — or follow her heart? When it comes to flirting, friendships, and fallouts, how is Keiko supposed to keep it all together?” [middle grade, ages 8 and up]
1. Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki
Ken Mochizuki and his family 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. [picture book, ages 8-12]
More books by Ken Mochizuki
More Great #OwnVoices Japanese American Children’s Books
Momo Arashima Steals the Sword of the Wind series by Misa Sugiura
Review by Ms. Yingling Reads:
“Loved the Japanese representation and folklore, as well as the well-developed adventure. The fact that Danny’s family was conveniently out of town so he could spend a week traveling into fantastical worlds worked surprisingly well for me. This moved along quickly and also offered me some insight as to why there is always a small group of die-hard fantasy fans. At one point, in the middle of fighting demons and running all over the place, Momo says ” I’m not beating anyone up or smiting them with swords, but I’d survived in a place where everyone thinks I’m not good enough or cool enough, and that’s hard.” It’s usually the academically inclined, “geeky” kids who like fantasies, and that’s the best explanation of why I’ve ever seen!” [middle grade, ages 8 and up]
Momotaro Xander and the Lost Island of Monster series by Margaret Dilloway
Review from Colorful Book Reviews:
“Xander Musashi Miyamoto is your average 6th grader – obsessed with video games, could care less about his homework project on climate change. Also the latest in a long line of Momotaros – with a life-or-death quest. As the smallest boy in his class, it’s a good thing his best friend was around when the magic hit – Xander will need all the help he can get.
Xander is biracial white/Asian, and Dilloway specifies both. I was intrigued to see how his Ainu heritage would play out. Indigenous people of Japan, Ainu are even today subject to racism, cultural appropriation, and suppression. His father’s Ainu/Japanese family could be mixed, but if they teach him he’s part Ainu, presumably, they’d retain other cultural markers too. Although today considered white, Irish Americans like his mother were once a hated minority. [middle grade, ages 8 and up]
The Perfect Sushi by Emily Satoko Seo, illustrated by Mique Moriuchi
Sushi is not easy to make! But Miko wants to make perfect sushi for her grandmother’s birthday party. Her grandfather helps her, but no matter how hard she tries, her sushi is lopsided. Frustrated, she goes to a sushi restaurant where a robot makes perfect sushi. She purchases some for her grandmother’s party but when her Babi tries it, it doesn’t touch her heart. As Miko looks at all the food on the table, prepared with love but not perfect, she decides to bring her own lopsided sushi for her grandmother to try. And it’s perfect, just the way it is! Kanpeki! In this day and age of robots and AI, it’s nice to remember that anything made with love is indeed perfect! [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Soul Lanterns by Shaw Kuzki
Twelve-year-old Nozomi lives in Hiroshima many decades after it was attacked with a nuclear bomb. Every year, she participates in a paper lantern-floating ceremony to honor the deceased. Her mother always releases a white lantern with no name, and as she begins to dig into the lost stories of what happened on August 6, 1945, she finds that a project she is working on is helping to heal her community. This story speaks to the urgent need for peace in our world. [middle grade, ages 10 and up]
The Sound of Silence by Katrina Goldsaito, illustrated by Julia Kuo
Tokyo buzzes with noise from the sound of the cars to the raindrops falling on Yoshio’s umbrella. When he hears a koto player tune her instrument, she tells him her favorite sound is ma, silence. But where can Yoshio find silence in this busy city? Finally, in the quiet of his empty classroom, he reads a book. And there it is. Silence. And, as he reflects, he finds silence slipping quietly between each sound. He has found ma. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Airi Sano, Prankmaster General: New School Skirmish by Zoe Tokushige, illustrated by Jennifer Naalchigar
Review from Ms. Yingling Reads:
“In this notebook novel, we meet Airi, who is of Japanese American descent and whose military family moves to Hawai’i to be near her grandparents, since her mother has struggled since the birth of Airi’s baby sister. Airi doesn’t do well in school, unlike her brother EJ, so she acts out, thinking that if she is bad enough, the teacher will just leave her alone. This strategy doesn’t work with Ms. Ashton, who hardly blinks when Airi puts sriracha sauce in cupcake frosting or questions whether the class should be reading The Secret Garden (a good discussion of how beloved books can have problems), but does get upset when Airi scares her young daughter at a Halloween party. Lots of fun details about Hawai’i and Japanese food, but Airi seemed younger than 6th grade, and does a lot of thoughtless pranks.” [middle grade notebook novel, ages 8 and up]
Love in the Library by Maggie Tokuda-Hall, illustrated by Yas Imamura
It didn’t matter who you were, just what you were — and being Japanese American then was treated like a crime.
Maggie Tokuda-Hall’s grandparents met at Minidoka incarceration camp where they were imprisoned during WWII for being of Japanese descent. Tama, Maggie’s grandmother, ran the library at the camp and George was a frequent visitor. Their love blossomed despite their inhospitable environment of prison guards, extreme heat and cold, disease, and lack of privacy. Books were the miracle that brought them together. [picture book, ages 6 and up]
I Am Able to Shine by Korey Watari, illustrated by Mike Wu
Husband and wife team up to create a self-affirmation story for young Asian Americans who may feel invisible. Keiko finds her voice and her confidence as she embraces who she is, and this is a gift she passes down to the next generation. [picture book, ages 3 and up]
The Lost Ryū by Emi Watanabe Cohen
Review by Ms. Yingling Reads:
“Kohei lives in Japan in the 1960s. The memory of World War II is still fresh, but the large dragons that used to thrive in the area are gone, superseded by smaller dragons that accompany people. Kohei has a dragon, Yuharu, whom he loves, but his grandfather, Ojiisan, is having a miserable old age since he is missing the larger dragons. When new neighbors from the US move in, Kohei isn’t thrilled but gets to know Isolde, who is his age. She is half-Japanese and half-Russian and has a Yiddish-speaking dragon named Cheshire. She agrees to help him find out about the larger dragons in order to help out his grandfather. His father is gone, but he hopes to find clues in his father’s office. Based on what they find, the two decide to take off to the coast by train and to try to get to Ryūgū-jō, a dragon sanctuary off the coast, to hatch an ōyatama (dragon) that will help the grandfather’s mood. Their plan is tricky, but they learn a lot about each other’s pasts, and even though things don’t always go well, Kohei and Isolde benefit from the journey in many ways.” [middle grade, ages 8 and up]
Anzu the Great Kaiju by Benson Shum
Kaiju is a Japanese genre of films and television featuring giant monsters. The term kaiju can also refer to the giant monsters themselves, which are usually depicted attacking major cities and battling either the military or other monsters. from Wikipedia
Anzu is the “Ferdinand the Bull” of Japanese Kaiju. He didn’t want to destroy cities like the other Kaiju. He wasn’t terrifying and his power was flowers. He could make things grow and bloom. When it came time to strike his city Anzu did it his way, and everyone loved it! [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Jirohatten by Hana Mori, translated by Tamiko Kurosaki and Elizabeth Crowe, illustrated by Elizabeth Crowe
This is the story of Jirohatten, a young man with what seems to be Down Syndrome, living in a remote area during WWII Japan. When evacuee children came from Kobe to escape the bombing, he was a kind soul who helped both them and their teacher. Daily life during this time, including the hardships and lack of food, is well described in this short book. This is the story of friendship, loss, and the enduring spirit of the Japanese people. [middle grade, ages 8 and up]
Dream, Annie, Dream by Waka T. Brown
Review by Children’s Books Heal:
“Waka T. Brown has written a captivating book that is so full of heart and big dreams. But it also tells a story of how American Asians are stereotyped and diversity is not necessarily welcome — an important theme running throughout the story. Set in 1987, there weren’t many people of color in movies, on TV, or in books at that time.
Annie’s family is strict but loving and supportive in an interesting way. They understand what Annie is up against and are concerned that her aspirations are a dead end for her. Her father is a mathematics professor and her mother is a stay-at-home mom, who isn’t comfortable socializing. Readers will learn a lot about Annie’s culture. I enjoyed the role Annie plays in inspiring her mother to pursue her own dream of becoming a nurse.” [middle grade, ages 8 and up]
Bound for Home by Meika Hashimoto
Review by Ms. Yingling Reads:
“Like Hashimoto’s The Trail (2017), this is a solid adventure book with good details about surviving in the wilderness. Emi was a sympathetic character who was struggling to feel loved and wanted, and her reaction to Meili and Jim’s news was not overly unrealistic. I liked that she wasn’t really running away from any mistreatment and that she liked being with them; it was a preemptive measure based on her previous life experiences. Meili briefly mentions how difficult it is to be of Asian descent in predominately white Maine, and the fact that the two of them had each other was a brief moment of light. Max and Red have very distinct personalities, and the chapters from their perspectives added an interesting element to the survival aspect.” [middle grade, ages 8 and up]
Gyo Fujikawa: Born November 3, 1908
It Began with a Page: How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Julie Morstad
Growing up in California, Gyo Fujikawa always knew that she wanted to be an artist. She was raised among strong women, including her mother and teachers, who encouraged her to fight for what she believed in. During World War II, Gyo’s family was forced to abandon everything and was taken to an internment camp in Arkansas.
Far away from home, Gyo worked as an illustrator in New York while her innocent family was imprisoned. Seeing the diversity around her and feeling pangs from her own childhood, Gyo became determined to show all types of children in the pages of her books. There had to be a world where they saw themselves represented. [picture book biography, ages 4 and up]
The Big Bath House by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Gracey Zhang
Visiting Baachan’s house is a joyful event full of hugs and a visit to the public bathhouse with all your cousins and aunties! There is a certain sequence of events for what you must do upon entering the bathhouse. First, you must wash up and get clean before you enter the big bath. It’s wonderfully steamy and relaxing! After the bath, it’s time for a treat. Shaved ice! Then, it’s time to walk home again … clip-clopping in your wooden geta sandals. This picture book is a celebration of Japanese culture and the bonds of family that cross oceans. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Snow Angel, Sand Angel by Lois-Ann Yamanaka, illustrated by Ashley Lukashevsky
Snow Angel, Sand Angel (Picture Book) by Lois-Ann Yamanaka tells the story of Claire who has been surrounded by deep blue waves and magnificent mountains of Hawai‘i all her life but has never, ever seen snow. And that’s what she wants more than anything. When her father drives her and her family to the top of Mauna Kea, she can’t help but be disappointed . . . it’s not the winter wonderland she’s always dreamed of. But as Claire edges closer to the New Year, she wonders if maybe she can delight in the special joys of winter in her own way—right there, on her Big Island of Hawai‘i. A guide in the back captures some of the local flora and fauna of Hawai‘i, as well as the value of being environmentally friendly. [picture book, ages 4 and up] Lois has a book list of Hawai‘i Children’s Books by Writers of the Island We Call Home, part of the #ReadYourWorld Book Jam 2022.
Joel Suzuki, Volume One: Secret of the Songshell series by Brian Tashima
“Joel Suzuki gets a huge surprise when he bumps into his favorite rock star while walking down the street. You see, this particular rock star – multiplatinum bandleader Marshall Byle – is supposed to be dead. Joel gets an even bigger surprise when Marshall makes him the offer of a lifetime: the chance to become a rock star himself. There’s a catch, of course, but this one is a little different. To unlock the shortcut to success, Joel must travel to an alternate world where his unique brain waves can be combined with the sound waves of music to create magical effects. If he can learn to harness these powers, he will be able to write songs that capture the hearts of millions. As a sensitive sixteen-year-old on the autism spectrum living in a single-parent home, Joel leads a stressful life full of bullies, bad grades, and money woes. Figuring that stardom will solve all of his problems, he accepts Marshall’s offer. But once Joel arrives in the new world, he finds himself faced with an unexpected audition that is unlike anything he has ever imagined…” [young adult, ages 13 and up]
Brian Tashima interviews Meg Eden for #MCBDAutismAcceptance Month:
Mystery of the Moonfire: Book Two of the Spectraland Saga by Brian Tashima
“Things are going pretty well for seventeen-year-old Joel Suzuki. He doesn’t have a girlfriend yet, but he does have a band, a record deal, and some really cool memories of saving a faraway place called Spectraland a little over six months ago. But then his old friend Fireflower shows up at one of Joel’s concerts and asks for his assistance. Apparently, things are not going quite as well back in Spectraland as they are on Earth. Joel agrees to help. But soon after he arrives in Spectraland, the situation takes a turn for the worse: the tropical island’s majestic twin moons suddenly burst into flames, and Wavemakers—the people with the power to create magic through music, of which Joel is one—begin to go missing. Now Joel must solve the mystery of who is behind these malevolent misdeeds before he falls victim to them as well. Could it be the Silencers, a group of angry individuals who are opposed to the Wavemakers’ very existence? Or perhaps another, even more sinister force that no one—including Joel—is expecting…” [young adult, ages 13 and up]
Zero by Katherine Otoshi
Zero is a big round number. When she looks at herself, she just sees a hole right in her center. Every day she watches the other numbers line up to count: “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 . . . !” “Those numbers have value. That’s why they count,” she thinks. But how could a number worth nothing become something? Zero feels empty inside. She watches One having fun with the other numbers. One has bold strokes and squared corners. Zero is big and round with no corners at all. “If I were like One, then I can count too,” she thinks. So she pushes and pulls, stretches and straightens, forces and flattens herself, but in the end, she realizes that she can only be Zero. [picture book, ages 4 and up] She also has One and Two in this awesome series.
The Sound of Silence by Katrina Goldsaito, illustrated by Julia Kuo
“Do you have a favorite sound?” little Yoshio asks. The musician answers, “The most beautiful sound is the sound of ma, of silence.”
But Yoshio lives in Tokyo, Japan: a giant, noisy, busy city. He hears shoes squishing through puddles, trains whooshing, cars beeping, and families laughing. Tokyo is like a symphony hall!
Where is silence?
Join Yoshio on his journey through the hustle and bustle of the city to find the most beautiful sound of all. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Gigi and Ojiji (I Can Read) by Melissa Iwai
Gigi can’t wait for her Ojiji—Japanese grandpa—to move in. Gigi plans lots of things to do with him, like playing tag, reading books, and teaching Roscoe, the family dog, new tricks.
But her plans don’t work out quite the way she’d hoped. And her grandpa doesn’t seem to like Roscoe. Will Gigi find a way to connect with her Ojiji? [early chapter book, ages 4 and up]
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. [picture book, ages 2 and up]
More books by Melissa Iwai
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? [young adult, ages 12 and up]
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. [picture book, ages 6 and up]
Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin by Chieri Uegaki and Qin Ling
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! [picture book, ages 4 and up]
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. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Other books by Debbie Ridpath Ohi
Daruma Doll Book: Yoko-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 the 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. [bilingual Japanese/English picture book, ages 4 and up]
Books by Ruth Ohi
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! [folk tale, ages 4 and up]
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. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
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. [picture book, ages 4-8]
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. [picture book, ages 6-9]
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 with a good read, and then researched it. Yes, it is his own story, and what a fascinating person he is! [chapter book, ages 9-14]
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. [graphic novel, ages 8 and up]
The Rema Chronicles: Realm of the Blue Mist by Amy Kim Kibuishi
“Tabby Simon is determined to learn what happened to her father, who was found dead after researching a tree that leaks a mysterious mist in her neighborhood. She is unexpectedly led to Rema, a distant world of magic and beauty that is periodically invaded by a nearby planet desperate for resources. While Tabby searches for the truth surrounding her father’s death, she meets a handsome blue-haired boy named Philip. He has his own dangerous secrets but has promised to help Tabby get home. As she learns more about this strange world, Tabby discovers that she is destined for something far greater than she ever could have imagined.” [middle grade graphic novel, ages 8 and up]
Fred Korematsu Speaks Up (Fighting for Justice series) by L
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. [ages 10 and up]
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.” [middle grade, ages 8 and up]
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. [picture book, ages 8-12]
Dust of Eden by Mariko Nagai
I’ve read many picture books about 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. [novel in verse, ages 9 and up]
Shinji Takahashi and the Mark of the Coatl by Julie Kagawa
Review by Ms. Yingling Reads:
“This was a strong middle grade entry from YA author Kagawa, whose Iron Fey (2010) series is one my students have recommended to me over the years. Shinji is a bit reluctant at first but jumps right into the adventure. Lucy is enigmatic at first, but he somehow trusts her because she seems to know more than he does, even if the reasons for this scare him once he figures them out. ” [middle grade, ages 8 and up]
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. [young adult, ages 10 and up]
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. [chapter book, ages 11 and up]
Japanese American Books for Kids Honorable Mentions
These books are not #OwnVoices, but I highly recommend them.
Seen and Unseen: What Dorothea Lange, Toyo Miyatake, and Ansel Adams’s Photographs Reveal About the Japanese American Incarceration by Elizabeth Partridge, illustrated by Lauren Tamaki
This is probably one of the best nonfiction books that I have read on Japanese American Incarceration, otherwise known as Japanese Internment. Both Elizabeth Partridge and Lauren Tamaki are outsiders. Elizabeth is white and Lauren Tamaki is Japanese Canadian. I think this is important because they bring a big-picture perspective that ties the past to the present day. But they are also insiders. Elizabeth Partridge is the goddaughter of Dorothea Lange, the fabled photographer who was against Japanese American incarceration. What might not be well known is that during WWII, Canada also created concentration camps for its immigrant populations made up but not limited to those of Japanese descent.
I had always found the two photographic portrays of Japanese American Incarceration camps by Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange to be very reflective of their aesthetic. Ansel Adams is known for his iconic landscape photographs of the wilderness and his portraits have a disconnect with the subject as if they are part of the natural world. I think the staging of his human subjects has a lot to do with this. Dorothea Lange is known for her portraits and her ability to convey empathy with her subjects. She is not known for landscape photographs. It’s clear that both tell a story with their images.
I did not know about Toyo Miyatake and how photography was greatly restricted but that makes a lot of sense. There is such a dichotomy in the messaging by the U.S. government, even going so far as to say that Japanese American Incarceration camps were for the benefit of those imprisoned to keep them “safe” while dictating that the photographs hide the guard towers and barbed wire.
The authors of Seen and Unseen also do a good job of showing that this incarceration wasn’t just about racism but there were clear winners and motivations for locking up the Japanese American population. On page 22-23, “Japanese farmers grew nearly half of the fruits and vegetables in California. They were told to keep working right up to the very last day.” The very last day, coincidentally (rolls eyes) was harvest time. “One farmer, frustrated that he could not get a twenty-four hour deferral so he could harvest his strawberries before reporting to the detention center, plowed under his entire ripe strawberry crop. The next day, the FBI arrested him for committing an act of sabotage.”
–> So I wonder who benefited from harvesting half the crops grown in California when the Japanese Americans were forced from their farms?
On page 106, “Powerful agriculture groups organized against Japanese Americans, making it clear that didn’t want them farming in their communities [after the war ended.]”
–> But I would like to point out that these powerful agricultural groups had formed long before WWII and were frustrated by the success of Japanese American farmers in their ability to grow nearly half the fruits and vegetables in California. The new owners of the farms were white.
Only hours after the Pearl Harbor attack on Dec. 7. 1941, Austin E. Anson, managing secretary of California’s powerful Salinas Valley Vegetable Grower-Shipper Association, was dispatched to Washington to urge federal authorities to remove all individuals of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast.
Based on an accumulation of evidence, we now know that the government’s action was partially initiated by California corporate agribusiness interests hoping to satisfy their own lust for land while ridding themselves of competition from the state’s most productive family farms.
The average value per acre of all West Coast farms in 1940 was $37.94, whereas that of Japanese farms was $279.96
“The farmer-growers association going to Congress asked for getting rid of these people. This was very largely a movement by a lot of different people to use the opportunity to get the Japanese farmer off the West Coast . . . . They got all their land, they got thousands and thousands of acres of the best land in California. The Japanese were just pushed off the land!”
Anson unabashedly admitted as much to Taylor in the Saturday Evening Post: “We’re charged with wanting to get rid of the Japs for selfish reasons. We might as well be honest. We do. It’s a question of whether the white man lives on the Pacific Coast or the brown men. They came into this valley to work and they stayed to take over.” from The Washington Post
|The California Farm Bureau was quoted by The News, saying that Japanese farmers were responsible for 40 percent of all vegetables grown in the state, including nearly 100 percent of all tomatoes, celery, strawberries, and peppers. |
From San Francisco Museum
In 1942, the managing secretary of the Western Growers Protective Association “reported that considerable profits were realized by the growers and the shippers because of the Japanese removal.” from Densho
This is a must-read for anyone of Japanese descent; my three children are getting copies for Christmas. It also belongs in every history classroom’s library. [nonfiction middle grade, ages 10 and up]
Ramen for Everyone by Patricia Tanumihardja, illustrated by Shiho Pate
Hiro’s father makes perfect ramen every Sunday. It’s a long process that takes patience. Hiro loves ramen and wants to make perfect ramen just like his father and grandfather, but when he attempts it for his 7th birthday party, his version turns out poorly. His dad tells him that ramen doesn’t have to be perfect, and Hiro has a plan. With his creative twists to ramen, he makes the perfect bowl for each of his family members.
First of all, ramen is really difficult to make; that’s why most Japanese in Japan go to a ramen shop instead of attempting it at home! From the broth to homemade noodles to cooking the chashu pork, even an adult would feel frustrated trying to make the perfect bowl. So, kudos to Hiro for even attempting this! And unlike other Japanese dishes, ramen is one specialty that varies from region to region, allowing for many variations. I like that about ramen and I’m glad this picture book emphasizes this. Ramen lovers all over the world will relate to this charming story![picture book, ages 4 and up]
The Mangrove Tree: Planting Trees to Feed Families by Susan L. Roth, illustrated by Cindy Trumbore
In Hargigo, a village in the African country of Eritrea, there isn’t enough food, but everything would change, thanks to one special tree. Mangrove trees can grow in brackish or salty water, providing food for goats and sheep. The villagers learn from scientist, Dr. Gordon Sato, how to grow a forest of mangrove trees, thus creating a new ecosystem that turns their village into a self-sufficient one. The story is told in the main body riffing off This is the House That Jack Built, but the interesting details are in each page spread’s sidebars. The Afterward provides a photo album to show how the mangrove forest was achieved. Dr. Sato named this project, The Manzanar Project, in homage to his experiences growing corn in response to hunger in the desert at Manzanar while imprisoned during WWII for being of Japanese descent. [nonfiction picture book, ages 7 and up]
Days of Infamy: How a Century of bigotry led to Japanese American Internment by Lawrence Goldstone
Review from From the Mixed Up Files of Middle Grade Authors:
“it takes a larger slice of history, giving context and detail to the story of discrimination against the Asian American community. In addition to historical photographs, maps, and documents, the book contains an index, bibliography, and detailed source notes. Bravo, Scholastic, and Lawrence Goldstone for including the extras to refute doubters and give curious readers more information.” [young adult, ages 12 and up]
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.” [picture book, ages 8-12]
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! [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Natsumi! by Susan Lendroth, illustrated by Priscilla Burris
Natsumi’s exuberance doesn’t fit in with the activities she does in preparation for her town’s Japanese arts festival. She stirs the matcha tea too vigorously for the tea ceremony. Her fan gets flung into her teacher’s knee during dance practice. Natsumi is discouraged but her grandfather knows what to do. At the final performance of the night, Natsumi shines … as a taiko drummer! [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Yoko’s Paper Cranes by Rosemary Wells
Rosemary Wells has incorporated traditional Japanese art themes into her luscious illustrations about Yoko communicating with her grandparents back in Japan. A sweet and endearing story. [picture book, ages 2-6]
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! [picture book, ages 2-12]
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.” [picture book, ages 6 and up]
“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. [historical fiction picture book, ages 8 and up]
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. [chapter book, ages 8 and up]
White Crane (Samurai Kids series) by
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? [chapter book, ages 8 and up]
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. [easy chapter book series, ages 6 and up]
Moonshadow: The Rise of the Ninja series by Simon Higgins
Set in Japan during the time of the Shogun’s 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! [chapter book, ages 8 and up]
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, and 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 brings the cousins closer together or tear them apart? [chapter book, ages 9 and up]
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. [chapter book, ages 8 and up]
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. [chapter book, ages 8-12]
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 raised an astounding $450,000! Her memorial statue stands today in Hiroshima at the Peace Memorial Park.
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. [nonfiction craft book, ages 10 and up]
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? [chapter book, ages 9 and up]
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. [young adult, ages 12 and up]
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. [chapter book, ages 12 and up]
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. [graphic novel, ages 8 and up]
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.” [historical fiction chapter book, ages 9 and up]
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. [graphic novel, ages 10 and up]
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.” [nonfiction picture book, ages 9 and up]
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.” [chapter book, ages 9 and up]
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. [young adult, ages 12 and up]
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. [young adult, ages 12 and up]
Isamu Naguchi: Born November 17, 1904
A Boy Named Isamu: A Story of Isamu Noguchi by James Yang
See the world through the eyes of Japanese American artist, landscape architect, furniture designer, and sculptor, Isamu Noguchi, when he was a child. [picture book biography, ages 3 and up]
Eugenia Clark: Born May 4, 1922
She’s half-Japanese American.
Swimming with Sharks: The Daring Discoveries of Eugenie Clark by Heather Lang, illustrated by Jordi Solano
In the 1930s, few people studied the ocean and none were women. At 9 years old, Eugenie Clark dreamed of studying sharks and went on to get a master’s degree in zoology. She became the first person to study sharks in their natural habitat. Her research shed new light on sharks; they were intelligent creatures, not voracious killers. She experienced discrimination as a woman and racism as a Japanese American, but she never let it slow her down. She passed away in 2015 at the age of 92, still researching and diving into the depths of the ocean! [picture book biography, ages 5 and up]
Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist by Jess Keating, illustrated by
Eugenie Clark fell in love with sharks from the first moment she saw them at the aquarium. She couldn’t imagine anything more exciting than studying these graceful creatures. But Eugenie quickly discovered that many people believed sharks to be ugly and scary―and they didn’t think women should be scientists. [picture book biography, ages 4 and up]
Ruth Asawa: January 24, 1926
A Life Made by Hand: The Story of Ruth Asawa by Andrea D’Aquino
Sculpture is like farming. If you just keep at it, you can get a lot done.
It makes me so happy that Ruth Asawa is finally getting the attention that she deserves. Her wire sculptures look like delicate, floating objects, but that belies the strength of the structures. And that also describes Ruth Asawa; she was someone who created beauty out of nothing and found inspiration even in the worst circumstances. Had she not been female and Japanese American, it’s possible that the world would have known her sooner like her fellow college alumni: Merce Cunningham, Buckminister Fuller, and Josef Albers. But it’s never too late to celebrate her groundbreaking work! [picture book, ages 5 and up]
Cynthia Kadohata: Born July 2, 1956
Cynthia Kadohata by Jill C. Wheeler
This biography introduces readers to Cynthia Kadohata, the Newbery Medal-winning author of Kira-Kira. She is also the author of A Million Shades of Gray, Outside Beauty, Weedflower, Cracker! The Best Dog in Vietnam, and other young adult and adult novels. Readers will learn about Kadohata’s early life in the South, the influence of her Japanese heritage, her struggle to get short stories published in magazines, her switch to young adult fiction, and the inspiration for her award-winning books. [picture book biography, ages 8 and up]
Meet 18 Asian Pacific American female Athletes from yesterday and today. Now, Mia Wenjen brings the accomplishments of Asian Pacific American female athletes to life with incredible stories of their amazing accomplishments. Readers rejoice with these extraordinary women as they overcome obstacles to prevail in their sport. [picture book anthology, ages 8 and up]
- (Eun Jung) EJ Lee Smith (Korean American) is thought to be one of the greatest point guards ever to play women’s college basketball.
- Chloe Kim (Korean American) is the youngest snowboarder to win Olympic Gold.
- Miki Gorman (Japanese American) is the only female marathon runner to win both the Boston Marathon and the New York Marathon, twice!
- Victoria Manalo Draves (Filipino & European American), a diver, is the first woman to win two Gold Medals in both springboard and platform in the same Olympics games, the first Asian-American to medal at an Olympics game, and the first Filipino to win a Gold Medal.
- Evelyn Tokue Kawamoto-Konno (Japanese American) learned to swim competitively in a ditch through Soichi Sakamoto’s Three-Year Swim Club and is the first Japanese-American female to win an Olympic Medal.
- Julie Chu (Chinese & Puerto Rican American), a hockey player, is the first Asian-American female to compete for the United States in the Winter Olympics for a sport other than figure skating. She took home three silver medals and one bronze medal from five Olympics.
- Natasha “Tasha” Kai (Filipino, Hawaiian, Chinese & European American) is the first player from Hawaii to make the full U.S. National Women’s Soccer team. In 2008, she helped the team earn an Olympic Gold medal.
- Michelle Wie (Korean American) is the youngest female to compete on the PGA Tour and the youngest USGA champion in an adult event.
- Kristi Yamaguchi (Japanese American) is a two-time Olympic Gold Medal ice skating champion, a two-time singles World Champion, and a two-time pairs National Champion.
- Amy Chow (Chinese American) is the first Asian American woman to win an Olympic Gold Medal in gymnastics.
- Anona Naone Napoleon (Native Hawaiian) won the International Makaha Surfing Competition.
- Michelle Waterson (Thai & European American) is a Mixed Martial Arts champion.
- Liane Lissa Sato (Japanese American) took home a Bronze Medal for the United States Women’s Volleyball Team at the Olympics held in Barcelona.
- Catherine Mai-Lan Fox (Vietnamese & European American) is a two-time Olympic Gold Medal winner for swimming.
- Megan Khang (Hmong American) is the first Hmong American to play on the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) Tour.
- Mohini Bhardwaj (Indian & Russian American) is the first Indian-American gymnast to medal at the Olympics.
- Naomi Osaka (Japanese & Haitian) is the first female Asian player to hold the number one ranking by the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA).
Asian Pacific American Heroes by Mia Wenjen
Meet 18 Asian Pacific American leaders from yesterday and today! From musician Bruno Mars and Olympian Chloe Kim to chef Niki Nakayama, these real life heroes inspire us to learn about Asian Pacific American history, language, and culture. Featured females are Chien-Shiung Wu (physicist), Chloe Kim (snowboarder), Eugenia Clark (shark biologist), Indra Krishnamurthy Nooyi (business executive), Margaret Cho (comedian and actress), Niki Nakayama (chef), Reshma Saujani (founder of Girls Who Code), and Maya Lim (architect and artist). [middle grade, ages 8 and up]
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p.s. Related posts:
Japanese American books for kids
For your young ninja, books to learn about Japan.
It’s amazing how a single piece of art can have a ripple effect, inspiring others all around the world and for many generations.
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.
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.
This was my response to a reader request.
I explore my own Japanese history in this post.
These older books explore the Japanese American internment experience during WWII, a shameful chapter in America’s history.
Food for the Future: Sustainable Farms Around the World
- Junior Library Guild Gold selection
- Selected as one of 100 Outstanding Picture Books of 2023 by dPICTUS and featured at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair
- Starred review from School Library Journal
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.