Monday, February 11, 2008

The Read Aloud Handbook: Journey to Topaz

I always seem to be in the middle of "reading projects." I have several going without any imposed deadline in Newbery/Caldecott reading project and my Essential Guide to Children's Books and Their Creators project are just two of them. Most of them are created on the spur of the moment, such as my project based on the titles mentioned in The Read Aloud Handbook.

I first read The Read Aloud Handbook when I was in high school. When I was in high school, I seriously considered going into education as a career. I read my mother's collection of educational theory and curriculum development books (when she retired, I took many of her preschool curriculum books, and I still read books on learning development and education). The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease was one of the most enjoyable and thought provoking reads, and I've since read each updated edition.

The Read Aloud Handbook has fantastic anecdotal and research-proven information on the pleasures and advantages of reading aloud, but it also have advice on television, the importance of classroom reading, the impact of Harry Potter on children's literature and reading, Trelease's theories on the enormous popularity of Oprah's Book Club (and how adults can incorporate Oprah's booktalking skills when promoting books to children), and the advantages/disadvantages of Accelerated Reader and Reading Counts. Trelease also pays considerate attention to the role of fathers in children's reading habits, building a personal library collection for children (don't let the word "library" scare you off-Trelease advocates for a small and carefully chosen personal library over a large one that might overwhelm children), and the importance of public and school libraries.

Trelease stuffs his handbook with absorbing anecdotes from parents, teachers, librarians, and children. It's a wonderful read, even if you already incorporate reading aloud time in your home or school.

Trelease also annotates hundreds of books perfect for read alouds, from wordless picture books to full length novels, in addition to short story collections, folk tales, and poetry. And thus starts my latest reading project! Although I've read many of the books mentioned, there are quite a few that I have missed.

Journey to Topaz is one of them. Based on author Yoshiko Uchida's personal experience, this is a moving and riveting account of one Japanese American family's experience in an internment camp during World War II.

Yuki Sakane is eleven years old when the news of the Pearl Harbor bombing is broadcast over the radio. Although her parents say that it might just be a rumor or part of a radio drama, the reality of the situation becomes stark when FBI agents come to arrest her father. As a leader within the San Francisco Japanese community, Mr. Sakane is under suspicion, as well as his colleagues within the community. Soon after Father is taken, Yuki, her mother, and her brother are sent to a separate internment camp.

The Sakanes discover that they are to live in a horse stall, sleep on bedding stuffed with straw (they were lucky, for they got the last straw mattresses) and use crude facilities for their toiletry needs. They are forbidden to move beyond the barbed wire of the camp.

The Sakanes are once again moved, but this time it is to a camp in the Utah desert. Tuberculosis threatens the health of her new friend in the camp, and the appearance of military recruiters for a special Japanese American force causes controversy within the camp. Father is reunited with his family, and is blacklisted by a gang within the camp, which is suspicious of his close ties with Caucasians.

At the book's end, the Sakanes are reunited and able to leave the camp. They are not allowed back into California, so they must think about ways to create new lives in Utah.

Despite the fear of the unknown, the stark conditions at camp, and the complete uprooting of their family, Yuki makes friends, goes to the camp school, and sings Christmas carols. Yoshiko Uchida has created a beautiful and sobering look at the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

For nonfiction accounts of the Japanese American internment, I recommend Dear Miss Breed: True Stories of the Japanese American Incarceration During World War II and a Librarian Who Made a Difference, Remembering Manzanar: Life in a Japanese Relocation Camp, and I Am an American: A True Story of Japanese Internment.

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the declaration of war on the Axis powers by the United States, Italian born residents of the United States were also at the risk of internment. By June 1942, 1,521 Italian born residents had been arrested and sent to internment camps in Montana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas. When Italy surrendered on Sept 8, 1943, the majority of prisoners were released. Some men had spent two years away from their families. For a powerful fictional account of the effect of one father's internment on a New Jersey family and the lingering suspicion of Italian Americans in post World War II America, read Jennifer Holm's Penny From Heaven. Penny From Heaven, which is based on Holm's own Italian American family, received a Newbery Honor citation in 2007 and was a New York Times bestseller.

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