The Children's Bookshelf: Write to Me

Apr 30, 2018

WRITE TO ME: Letters from Japanese American Children to the Librarian They Left Behind written by Cynthia Grady and illustrated by Amiko Hirao is a non-fiction picture book about San Diego librarian Clara Breed. She encouraged her Japanese American students to write to her when they and their families were forced into internment camps by the federal government after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

 

Clara Breed supplied the children with books to read and cards on which to write to her. And they did. Many of those letters are featured in this book. “Dear Miss Breed, Books make the day shorter and happier for us. Sincerely Yours, Florence and Margaret Ishino.”  Other letters talked about the shortage of food, the outbreak of measles in the camp and overcrowding. “Dear Miss Breed, We have one large shower and one large laundry room. We certainly don’t see how they expect over 16,000 people to be clean and also have their clothes clean. Yours truly, Fusa.”

 

Eventually Miss Breed visited them in the prison at Poston, Arizona and took them supplies with which to color, draw and sew as well as more books. This story shows how important reading and books can be to children caught in a confusing, disorienting and unjust situation.

 

Amiko Hirao’s illustrations rendered beautifully in soft colored pencils serve the story well and capture the gentleness of the children. There is  a useful timeline at the back of the book along with sources such as the Clara Breed Collection at The Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles.

 

WRITE TO ME: Letters from Japanese American Children to the Librarian They Left Behind written by Cynthia Grady and illustrated by Amice Hirao is appropriate for children ages 5-8 (Charlesbridge,2018).

 

Questions for WRITE TO ME: Letters from Japanese American Children to the Librarian They Left Behind

 

The Japanese American children and their families who were ordered by the US government to leave their homes and be placed in internment camps after the attack on Pearl Harbor were only allowed to take with them that which they could carry. What would you take with you if you were the subject of such unjust action? Think about it and make a list of what you would take that you could carry.

 

How did Clara Breed make a difference during the children’s three-year internment with their families? Study the story and pictures again for clues.  Older readers: How did she continue to make a difference after that time? Ask a teacher or a parent to help you trace material about Clara Breed’s life. Some notable dates are at the back of the book.

 

Take a careful look at the photograph on the page with the Author’s Note. There you will see a 1919 picture of Clara Breed with two of the children (now grown up) who are featured in this book, namely, Louise Ogawa and Katherine Tasaki. Clara Reed was honored for her life’s work at this celebration. How does the photography make you feel? Can you give this picture a title?