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Japanese Internment Camps
They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, and Steven Scott (with art by Harmony Becker) is an illustrated biography in graphic novel format. George Takei, known to the world now as the actor who played Lt. Commander Hikaru Sulu in Star Trek, is a survivor of the Japanese internment camps that followed the WWII Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor.
After the bombing on the USS Pearl Harbor off the coast of Hawaii on December 7, 1941, President Roosevelt stoked the fires of racism by declaring every person of Japanese decent to be considered a threat to the country, and signed Executive Order 9066, which allowed the military to round up “excluded” peoples (aka, people of Japanese descent, regardless of citizenship) and bring them to “safe” areas – internment camps.
Fear is a Powerful Motivator
Something I have noticed over and over again in reading these stories of awful American history is just how powerful fear can be as a motivator. Fear makes sane people justify horrific actions in the name of their own sense of security. Fear makes people treat each other as less than human.
George Takei uses this book (and his second and third volumes) to tell the story of what happened to him. He was five years old at the time he was taken away from his home, and those memories are burned into him forever. He recalls the feelings he had as he was taken from his warm, safe home of his childhood, how he and his family were treated by people ruled by their fears, and how they each tried to make the best of their horrible situation by finding any joys that could be captured inside the camps.
This is not a feel-good inspirational story. This is still tragic. It is still unfair. It is still inhumane.
This book is too advanced for my preschooler and second grader to read yet, though I could probably use it as a simple read-aloud. It is a little long to read to them with their shorter attention spans, though, so I will probably wait to give it to my oldest until he’s in at least fourth grade and enjoys sitting and reading longer chapter books.
This is definitely appropriate for older elementary-middle school kids.
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