This is a beautiful book that shares a part of our history in such a way that will make it easier to talk about and understand with my middle grade reading students. World War II for Japanese Americans born in this country was not a time looked at with fondness. I know this first hand because my mother-in-law, born in California in 1940, knows about it first hand and never speaks of it. Manami's story, although a little older, could have been "Grandma's" story.
From the beginning, this book is filled with questions to ponder. Knowing no dogs are allowed in the camps, what would you do with your beloved Yujiin? I can see early on, fascinating and educational discussions about the camps and the War will ensue with students.
When the family arrives to arrives at Manzanar to the barbed wire, guard tower, lack of green for a garden, Manami's father says with a positive twist, "The soldiers say it will be a village...We will make it a village." (p. 28) and they do.
Shortly afterwards, Manami stops talking. The dirt, not like her island sand where she comes from "coats her throat so [she] cannot speak." And the questions to think about continue: Is it Manami's fault that her older brother, Ron, came from college in Indiana? Why did her older sister, Keiko, stay in college?
Each chapter is a month in time at the camp. In June, Ron thinks about joining the US Army. More questions--Should he go? Why the conflict with going or staying?
Manami draws pictures of Yujiin and sends them in the sky, hoping for him to come to her. "Each morning, I make a wish for Yujiin to come and I send new promises in the air." (p.81)
The months go on and the challenges of living in Manzanar continue. Stray dogs show up, but none are Yujiin. Is Yujiin getting Manami's messages? Will Manami ever be able to love another dog?Will Manami speak again?
Go ahead and grab a cup of tea, a rice ball and sit down for a few hours and enjoy this special historical novel by debut author, Lois Sepahaban. You won't want to get up till your finished.