REVIEW OF NEW BOOK + SUGGESTION FOR CLOSE READING. Once again, Sandler has written a text for our intermediate/middle grade readers that captures the reader in the grip of a devastating experience – the internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II. What stood out for me in this book is Sandler’s continual revelation of the irony of this situation and the language he uses to make this irony explicit for students. Let me back up. Japanese Americans faced racism when they came to the states – and yet they figured out how to thrive and be successful economically. There was no evidence in general of espionage or lack of loyalty to the U.S. after Pearl Harbor and yet the decision was still made to intern this group of citizens. They could have languished in terrible living conditions and yet they turned these spaces into livable communities and joined the military and received the highest recognition for their contributions to the war effort (combat, nursing, translators, etc.). And all of this in the face of loss of identity, long-term emotional/psychological scarring, loss of wealth or means of making a living – all of which also occurred.
The beauty of this book is how Sandler’s writing helps our student readers access these themes – perseverance, injustice, irony, courage, the effects/impact of displacement, surmounting obstacles, knowledge versus ignorance, determination, ingenuity, etc. The book is crafted in a way that you see how terrible things are and THEN you see what the Japanese Americans do in response (that reveals perseverance, etc.). Next you see how terrible things continue to happen to them and AGAIN you see what the Japanese Americans do in response and WHAT ELSE THEY DO in response AND what else they do in response. Does this make sense? Sandler’s tone, his language, his choices about chronology all contribute to this.
Our instruction or our coaching of students might highlight this. For example, we could do a close reading of pages 76-78 (no text on page 77), where Sandler describes how the internees turned the unfathomable living conditions into culturally relevant spaces. The first paragraph starts with “In the opinion of many of the internees who had become unofficial leaders in their camps, there was only one way to combat the sadness and depression that had come with imprisonment…” He’s clearly setting the reader up here – for a contrast, for a shift, for a defining moment. Students should continue by noticing language like “ambitious projects” and “remarkable achievement.” Phrases that reveal that “and they also did this” theme – like “In addition to improving their surroundings…” You might then engage students in a close reading of the paragraph at the top of 87 that starts with “But despite this type of demonstration and the continual pronouncements of allegiance to the United States by internees of all ages, the question of how loyal they really were would not go away.” Here Sandler proceeds to introduce another obstacle.
By doing a close reading – helping readers think through just these few paragraphs – students can begin to see what Sandler does throughout the book to reveal the Japanese Americans’ determination in the face of obstacles as well as the irony involved. My copy of this text is riddled with sticky notes – all marking where I see him using language and structure to help the reader access these ideas. This should have a ripple effect when they read other texts about the mistreatment of groups like Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickels, America’s First Black Paratroopers by Tanya Lee Stone and Beyond Courage: The Untold Story of Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust by Doreen Rappaport and shorter texts like “Yellow Journalism” by Small Planet Communications.