Drawing upon her grandmother's story of internment at Topaz during World War II, Amy Lei-Tai finds a small piece of sunshine in young Mari’s story. Like thousands of other innocent American citizens, Mari and her family have been forced to leave their home simply because of their Japanese heritage. Mari loves art, but it's so difficult to find anything to draw in a place so hot and desolate.
A Place Where Sunflowers Grow
by Amy Lee-Tai
illustrated by Felicia Hoshino
Japanese translation by Marc Akio Lee
Children’s Book Press, 2006
Your local library
Eventually, with the encouragement of her family and her teacher Mrs. Hanamoto, Mari finds comfort in her weekly art class as she paints pictures that remind her of home.
“Flowers don’t grow easily in the desert,” laments young Mari during her first week at Topaz.
“It will take time, patience, and care,” her mother replies.
I was really struck by how Lee-Tai’s delicate story brings this difficult time to a young audience. The story is written in both English and Japanese, and the lovely audiobook is also produced with both languages narrated a page at a time.
Pair this picture book with novels for middle grade students, giving them a way into the story. Picture books can introduce the setting and historical time, providing a visual grounding for students. Here are a few other books on the experiences of Japanese Americans during World War II that I recommend for elementary students:
- Barbed Wire Baseball, by Marissa Moss
- Baseball Saved Us, by Ken Mochizuki
- The Bracelet, by Yoshiko Ushida
- Dash, by Kirby Larson
- Sylvia and Aki, by Winifred Conkling
- Weedflower, by Cynthia Kadohata
©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books