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From the PublisherBooklist 1/1/06
*STAR* Oppenheim, Joanne. Dear Miss Breed: True Stories of the Japanese American Incarceration during World War II and a Librarian Who Made a Difference. Feb. 2006. 288p. illus. index. Scholastic Nonfiction, $22.99 (0-439-56992-3). 940.53.
Gr. 710. Like Michael O. Tunnell's The Children of Topaz (1996), this passionately written history bears witness to the World War II injustices endured by Japanese Americans, from a vantage point of particular relevance to young people. In a poignant introduction, seasoned children's writer Oppenheim explains how her hunt for a former classmate, a Japanese American, serendipitously led her to an Internet profile of San Diego children's librarian Clara Breed, and to a collection of letters written to Breed by her incarcerated Japanese patronsgrateful, illuminating responses to Breed's faithful missives and care packages containing books and other gifts. Although the letters (and interviews with their grown-up authors) form the narrative's bedrock, Oppenheim weaves them into a broader account amplified by photos, archival materials (including a startlingly racist cartoon by Dr. Seuss), and moving quotations from the later reparation hearings: “I was just 10 years old when I became a 'squint-eyed yellow-bellied Jap.'” Along with the basic facts, Oppenheim urges readers to critically interpret primary sources and identify “governmental doublespeak”; the words “incarceration” or “concentration” are consciously employed here as correctives for softpedaling terminology like “internment” and “relocation.” Unclear references in the children's letters are not always annotated, and the recurring discussion of professional concerns facing Breed (whose own letters to the camps have been lost) often seems to cater too obviously to Oppenheim's adult readers. But the aggregate deserves commendation for its sheer quantity of accessible, exhaustively researched information about a troubling period, more resonant now than ever, when American ideals were compromised by fear and unfortunate racial assumptions. Eight pages of unusually readable, wide-ranging endnotes and an exhaustive bibliography conclude, evidence of Oppenheim's all-consuming research process. Jennifer Mattson
Kirkus 12/15/05 Looking back to a shameful but characteristic chapter in this country's history, Oppenheim wraps an angry account of the U.S. West Coast Japanese-American population's forced removal in the panic following Pearl Harbor around a heartfelt tribute to Clara Breed, a San Diego children's librarian who kept in touch with several of her evacuated young "regulars" and became an advocate for their release. The text is sometimes repetitive or overstuffed with minor details, but—supported by frequent excerpts from letters, passages (pointedly labeled "Testimony") from the 1981 reparation hearings and lines from the author's own interviews with survivors—it not only creates a scathing picture of the living conditions those children and their families were forced to endure, but also bears eloquent witness to their deeply rooted patriotism and unshakable determination to make the best of things, come what may. Supplemented by a range of period commentary and illustrated with rare snapshots, this is rich in primary material and also bears unmistakable relevance in this post-9/11 atmosphere. (bibliography, notes) (Nonfiction. 11+)
VOYA5Q 3P M J S Oppenheim, Joanne. Dear Miss Breed: True Stories of the Japanese American Incarceration During World War II and a Librarian Who Made a Difference, Scholastic.2006.288p. $22.99. 0-439-56992-3.. Index. Illus. Photos. Maps. Biblio. Notes. Appendix.
In his last year, this reviewer’s father, a Pearl Harbor vet, spent time in a daycare program for dementia victims. Routinely he would return home to recount stories of a fellow daycare resident, a Japanese American woman who had spent time at M