Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Dear Miss Breed: True Stories of the Japanese American Incarceration During World War II and a Librarian Who Made a Difference by Joanne Oppenheimer | Book Review

Dear Miss Breed: True Stories of the Japanese American Incarceration During World War II and a Librarian Who Made a Difference
(Love this cover!  So many great little details on it, without being overwhelming; perfectly put together!)

As the subtitle states, Dear Miss Breed is the story of one San Diego children's librarian who went the extra mile (and beyond!) to serve young people incarcerated in the Japanese American incarceration camps during WWII.  Clara Breed was young herself, very newly graduated from the Masters of Library and Information Science program when the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred.  As the only children's librarian in her county, and stationed at a branch in the primarily Japanese neighborhood of San Diego, she had many interactions with Japanese American youth.  When the executive orders starting coming in to move Japanese Americans into the camps, she was just as heartbroken to see "her children" go as they were to go.  Her first grand act of service to them was to visit the train station from which they were departing, handing out pre-addressed post cards and candy and wishing them all well.  Thanks to her quick thinking, the children were able to write to Clara and let her know where they were and how to mail them things and how they were doing.  She in turn was able to send them books and little surprises.

I don't know about you, but I don't remember learning much about the Japanese American incarceration camps in school.  It wasn't ignored or glossed over, but we definitely didn't linger on the subject.  I had no idea the scope!  Reading in this book about the sheer number of Japanese and Japanese Americans incarcerated was mind-blowing.  Also, the timeline.  Maybe I just wasn't paying attention in school, but I don't remember learning that most of these people spent two or more years in the camps.  They had very little or no information about the future when they were ordered to evacuate, so most sold their entire life's collection of belongings and property.  When they were released finally, they were released with $25.  That's it!  To rebuild their lives!  And for those 2+ years, most of the women and children were incarcerated in separate camps from the male heads of household.  This is just the tip of the iceberg of information contained in this relatively slender tome.

Dear Miss Breed is laid out in such a way that excerpts from actual letters written to Miss Breed from the children are interspersed among passages with information on the events referenced, pictures of the children and the camps, and excerpts from testimony given at a Congressional hearing in 1981.  This makes it very readable; the reader is never bogged down in long passages.  And everything is laid out in consecutive order, supporting each other, making it very clear and easy to follow the progression of events.  I never found it difficult to pick the book back up after putting it down for the night.

The linking of historical events with personal interest stories makes this a very approachable nonfiction.  The "characters" leap off the page and into your hearts.  A book that I can definitely see recommending, especially with the institution of Common Core in my state (NC).

*I checked out my copy of Dear Miss Breed from my local library.  How appropriate!

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