Archive | September, 2014

Behind the Barbed Wire Fence

24 Sep

Some time this year, a new musical will open on Broadway called, “Allegiance.”  It is the story of actor George Takei (Mr. Sulu from Star Trek) and the years his family spent interned in Japanese internment camps during World War II.

The detainment of American citizens based on the country of origin and their race is a dark chapter in our nation’s history.  Fueled by anti-Japanese sentiments after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, nearly 120,000 Americans were sent to camps across the west and in the south purely because they were Japanese.  The conditions in the camps were bad.  Men in the camps were asked to swear loyalty oaths and those that didn’t, the “No-No boys,” were either imprisoned or repatriated to Japan, a country some of them had never even visited.  Many young men, to prove their loyalty to the United States, enlisted in the Army as part of the 100th/442nd.  This unit of the military was the most highly decorated unit in military history

On January 2, 1945, almost seventy years ago, the Supreme Court decided that loyal American citizens could not be imprisoned and, by 1946, the camps were closed.  However, the Japanese-Americans imprisoned during that time lost their dignity and their property.  Only one governor, Colorado Governor Ralph Carr, stood against the Federal government and gave state citizenship to the prisoners in his state.  To quote Governor Carr, “If you harm them, you must harm me. I was brought up in a small town where I knew the shame and dishonor of race hatred. I grew to despise it because it threatened the happiness of you and you and you.”

In the following list, I have included both fact and fiction; adult, young adult, and children’s books.  We learn best by remembering the mistakes that were made in the past.  The following books are an important step in teaching children about this little acknowledged chapter in American history:

Voices from the Camp: Internment of Japanese Americans During World War II, by Larry Dane Brimner.












Author Brimner details personal testimony of Japanese American survivors of the World War II forced evacuation. The book discusses the actual “relocation” of Japanese Americans, daily life in the camps, and how people were treated upon their return to their former homes.  It also discusses the burden of shame that survivors of the camps carry. (Grades 7 to 12)

Fighting for Honor: Japanese Americans and World War II, by Michael Cooper.












Examines the history of the Japanese people in the United States including the mass relocation and the recruitment of Japanese men to the 100th/442nd, the most decorated unit in the U.S. military. (Grades 6 to 12)

The Magic of Ordinary Days, by Ann Howard Creel.











When a young woman in Denver becomes pregnant by a soldier, her father sends her into an arranged marriage to a farmer in Southern Colorado.  Taken from her home and urban lifestyle, the woman is at loose ends until she befriends two young Japanese women in the nearby Amache camp.  This friendship accidentally leads to the escape of German prisoners of war and the prosecution of the Japanese women.  Based on a true story, this is an excellent book club selection.  It was also made into a 2005 Hallmark movie starring Keri Russell and Skeet Ulrich.  (Grades 9+)

Red Berries, White Clouds, Blue Skies, by Sandra Dallas.












When 12 year old Tomi and her family are “relocated” from Southern California to a camp on the Colorado plains, their lives go through upheaval.  Tomi is an optimistic girl and not only makes an adjustment, but helps other people in the camp to adjust, as well.  However, Tomi’s father had been imprisoned without cause and when he finally returns to his family, he is no longer a patriotic American, and his disillusionment spreads to his daughter.  Only after Tomi writes a prize winning essay on Why I Am an American do father and daughter make their peace with the treatment they experienced.  (Grades 4 to 8)

Tallgrass, by Sandra Dallas.











When a young girl is murdered on a Colorado farm, the residents of the nearby Japanese internment camps are suspected.  A local girl observes the presence of prejudice in her community, even as her father displays his ethics by fighting bigotry.  (Grade 9+)

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford.












This popular book club selection takes place in Seattle just before the war.  A young Chinese boy who is a jazz aficionado, befriends a Japanese girl and a Black musician.  The two children experience racial discrimination as they are drawn to each other.  (Adult)

Silver Like Dust: One Family’s Story of America’s Japanese Internment, by Kimi Cunningham Grant.











A young girl in Pennsylvania denies her Japanese heritage until she learns the story of her grandmother’s relocation to the Heart Mountain Camp in Wyoming.  (Adult)

Dash, by Kirby Larson.












When her family is forced into an internment camp, Mitsi Kashino must give her beloved dog, Dash, to a neighbor.  During her imprisonment, it is the ongoing letters about Dash that keep Mitsi connected to the outside world.  (Grades 3 to 7)

Baseball Saved Us, by Ken Mochizuki.










A Japanese American boy learns to play baseball as a survival strategy when he is in the relocation camps.  After the war, when he has returned home, playing baseball for his school helps him to survive prejudice.  (Grades 1 to 5)

I Am an American: A True Story of Japanese Internment, by Jerry Stanley.












A highly personal portrait of Shi Namua, one of the nearly 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent who were evacuated to internment camps.  This book places discriminatory racial laws and segregated California schools in the perspective of wartime jingoism. (Grades 3 and up).

Farewell to Manzanar: A True Story of Japanese American Experience During and After the World War II Internment, by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston.










This is a beautifully rendered newer edition of a classic autobiography for younger readers.  Jeanne Wakatsuki was seven years old when her family was sent to Manzanar along with 10,000 other Japanese Americans.  The author describes camp life, an attempt by reluctant prisoners to establish a “normal” day to day life by creating schools, Boy and Girl Scout troops, having “sock hops,” cheerleading squads, and all of the trappings of American life outside of the camps.  (Grades 7 and up)

To the Stars: The Autobiography of George Takei, Star Trek’s Mr. Sulu, by George Takei.


Image via Amazon

Before he became an actor and became well-known for the part of Mr. Sulu on Star Trek, Takei was a young California boy who, with his family, was deported to an internment camp in the Arkansas swamps, and later transferred to another camp in California.  Takei, who has always been a political activist, also discusses his early work on California strawberry farms which helped him to understand issues of migrant labor.  For “Trekkies” or “trekkers,” the book touches on well-known conflicts between Takei and actor William Shatner. (Adult)

Several of the books mentioned in this list are fine selections for book discussion groups.  While many (young) Americans are not even aware of this chapter of American history, it is an important lesson in life on the home front during World War II.

-Written by Lois Gross, Senior Children’s Librarian

Love and Chocolate: Like Water for Chocolate, The Chocolate Kiss, and Chocolat

19 Sep

When I think of chocolate I associate it with so many special moments as a child: bunnies for Easter, trick-or-treating for candy bars, and chocolate birthday cakes, but the thing I think of most as an adult is chocolate as the food of love.  One of my favorite memories of falling in love with my husband is making and sharing hot chocolate made from Nutella one snowy evening.  Chocolate appears in many of the books I’ve enjoyed from mysteries like Diane Mott Davidson’s Dying for Chocolate to science fiction with Kage Baker’s chocolate loving cyborgs in her Company series to the absurd humor of Robert Rankin’s the Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse.  But in books focusing on romance it often is a driving force in the novel.  Three examples of this are in the magical realism of Laura Florand’s The Chocolate Kiss, Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate, and Joanne Harris’s Chocolat.

Like Water for Chocolate, by Laura Esquivel












I fell in love with Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate when I read it for a women’s literature course in college.  The title comes from the fact that water to make chocolate must be almost at the boiling point, which reflects a passionate nature.  The novel chronicles the life of Tita, who as the youngest daughter in her family is not allowed to marry her true love Pedro, but instead must care for her mother until she dies.  Pedro instead marries one of Tita’s older sisters in order to remain close to Tita.  Tita channels all her emotions into her cooking and as a result people who eat her food feel her intense emotions from passion to sadness.  I remember being charmed by the 1994 movie when I watched it after reading Like Water for Chocolate for the first time, but have found it a little over the top in its execution when I watched it more recently when I led the library’s book discussion of Like Water for Chocolate during Hispanic Heritage month.  Although I might not believe in the fairy tale ideal of “true love” quite as much as when I was in my early twenties there is still a lot of magic in Esquivel’s writing and her description of food.  Although chocolate is in the title there are a number of other foods from wedding cake to quail with a rose petals sauce featured and several recipes are given.

If you are interested in trying food inspired by Like Water for Chocolate or other great books, then you will definitely want to consider going to Novel Night, a delicious fundraiser run by the Friends of the Hoboken Library on October 18.  You can get tickets and learn more at their website. 

The Chocolate Kiss, by Laura Florand












I found The Chocolate Kiss a sweet read.  For those who may have sampled the nonfiction Parisian treats I had mentioned in a previous blog post, Florand’s The Chocolate Kiss provides a fictional spin on love and delicious delicacies in Paris.  Magalie Chaudron works at her Aunt’s La Maison des Sorcieres, small tea shop in Paris’s charming Ile Saint-Louis (Florand claims she was inspired by an actual chocolate shop she had visited there). Magalie’s Aunt’s tea contains magical properties, but Magalie imparts her wishes in her delicious hot chocolate (a recipe is included at the end of the novel).  When a new branch of Paris’s top pastry shop opens down the block, Magalie is ready for a fight to keep her Aunt’s shop in business, but is surprised to find herself drawn to the charismatic young pastry chef, Philippe Lyonnais who attempts to seduce her with a variety of macarons (these sound so delicious I wanted to run over to one of the French bakeries in town to buy a few of the trendy French cookies).  Although the romance elements are nicely written by Florand, I found myself even more drawn to the story line of Magalie’s overcoming her feeling of rootlessness that came from moving with her parents frequently between America (the homeland of her father) and Provence (where her mother grew up).  The story not only has Magalie finding love, but also herself.  Those who enjoy Chicklit or New Adult genre works will find this a quick and enjoyable read.  Several of Florand’s other novels, including the similarly chocolate infused romances The Chocolate Heart and The Chocolate Touch, are also available from BCCLS libraries.

Chocolat, by Joanne Harris













When I read The Chocolate Kiss, it reminded me a lot of Joanne Harris’s novel Chocolat which also centers on a magically endowed chocolate maker, Vianne Rocher.  However, Chocolat is set in a small rural village in France rather than cosmopolitan Paris and there is a wider focus on the lives of the supporting characters such as the timid Josephine, who are affected by the magical chocolates of Vianne.  I loved the way that Vianne was able to pick out each character’s favorites and that their choices would be reflective of their innermost self.  In some ways this is the reverse of Like Water for Chocolate, instead of causing people to feel Tita’s emotions, Vianne’s chocolates encourage the villagers to confront their own hidden desires.  Harris followed up Chocolat with two sequels The Girl with No Shadow and Peaches for Father Francis, which did not quite capture the magic of the original for me, but are interesting reads for those wondering what the next chapters for the characters are.  I first encountered the movie that was based on the book staring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp and it is one the few cases where I am equally charmed by the theatrical interpretation as the original print work.  Out of the three novels, this would be my favorite, but all are worth sampling.

You’ll be tempted to have a cup of hot chocolate while you enjoy these books.  If you want to try my own recipe for romance and have hot chocolate made with Nutella for a hazelnut infused chocolate treat, you can try Martha Stewart’s version, which makes a perfect two person portion for those who want to share with their love.

Written by Aimee Harris, Head of Reference

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