Against the grim backdrop of the Japanese-American internment camps, white librarian Clara Breed’s compassion offered children a ray of hope and a comforting connection to the normal lives they sorely missed.
The children’s librarian at a San Diego public library, Breed had a close bond with many of her young patrons. Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941, as these young Japanese-Americans were incarcerated with their families in harsh desert conditions, Breed corresponded with many of them, sending books and art supplies, and wrote articles and letters agitating for justice for the internees. Many pages include quotes from the children’s correspondence, now archived at the Japanese American National Museum, which testify to the power of literature to make life more bearable. The text softens the harsh realities of the times, focusing primarily on Breed as a benefactor. “The US government” is named as the enemy, with the pervasive racism and overt hostility of many ordinary Americans going unmentioned. Following the war, readers are told that some Japanese-Americans “feared that they would not be welcome in their old neighborhoods….But others…couldn’t wait to come home,” even though the fears of the former were often justified and they might well have preferred to return home too. The endpapers feature historical photographs, and the colored-pencil illustrations give a gentle, sepia-toned feel to the book. Extensive endnotes provide valuable context.
A touching tribute to a woman who deserves recognition, but it’s one that should be complemented by other works. (Picture book. 6-9)