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Place Where Sunflowers Grow

Place Where Sunflowers Grow

5.0 3
by Amy Lee-Tai

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Mari wonders if anything can bloom at Topaz, where her family is interned along with thousands of other Japanese Americans during World War II. The summer sun is blazingly hot, and Mari’s art class has begun. But it’s hard to think of anything to draw in a place where nothing beautiful grows. Somehow, glimmers of hope begin to surface under the harsh


Mari wonders if anything can bloom at Topaz, where her family is interned along with thousands of other Japanese Americans during World War II. The summer sun is blazingly hot, and Mari’s art class has begun. But it’s hard to think of anything to draw in a place where nothing beautiful grows. Somehow, glimmers of hope begin to surface under the harsh sun—in the eyes of a kindly art teacher, in the tender words of Mari’s parents, and in the smile of a new friend.Inspired by her family’s experiences, author Amy Lee-Tai has crafted a story rooted in one of America’s most shameful historical episodes—the internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II. The art schools which offered internees moments of solace and self-expression are a little known part of this history. Amy Lee-Tai’s gentle prose and Felicia Hoshino’s stunning mixed media images are a testimony to hope and how it can survive alongside even the harshest injustice.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Lee-Tai's debut book traces one girl's gradual adaptation to painful circumstances in an internment camp for American citizens of Japanese ancestry during WWII. Mari, the young daughter of a pair of artists, has moved (just over a year ago) from her beloved California home to Topaz, a camp in the Utah desert. As the book opens, she and her mother plant sunflower seeds. Her parents sign her up for classes in the art school they've started, but Mari is too depressed to draw. Her parents are unfailingly kind and understanding. "That happens to me sometimes, too," her father says when Mari tells him about her artist's block. "But I don't give up," he adds. Sure enough, Mari discovers she can keep memory alive by drawing it-and she can grow sunflowers in Utah's sandy soil, too. Hoshino's ink-and-watercolor spreads both provide historical information and convey the story's emotional weight-and do both with grace. In one evocative painting, Mari and her mother wait in line for the latrine while, ahead of them, a pregnant woman puts her hands on her round stomach with a thoughtful expression; "What is to become of my child?" readers can imagine her thinking. One caveat: the inclusion of a Japanese translation on each page widens the book's audience to include Japanese students of English, but also crowds the pages visually. Readers will enjoy watching Mari grow in strength and confidence. Ages 6-up. (July) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature - Anita Barnes Lowen
Flowers do not grow easily in the desert, nor does a young Japanese-American girl who has been uprooted from her home, her friends, and her flower-filled backyard. But with time, patience, and care both will grow tall, strong, and beautiful. Mari and her family have been forcibly removed from their home and incarcerated in an internment camp in the hot, dry desert of Utah. Mari desperately misses her old life, but as time passes, she begins to bloom. Mari finds solace in drawing her memories of home. She makes a friend. She sees that the sunflower seeds she and her mother planted in the sandy, dry soil of the camp have sprouted. And as we learn in the endpapers, these sunflowers flourished just as a young girl's spirit can flourish even in the harshest of circumstances. Mari's story is drawn from the actual experiences of the author's grandmother and mother who were interned in Topaz, Utah, during World War ll. The poignant multimedia illustrations are based in part on the artwork of Hisako Hibi, the author's grandmother. This touching story introduces younger readers to a little known part of American history. The story's text is printed in English as well as Japanese, making this book a must for any elementary school offering a Japanese language immersion curriculum. Recommended.
School Library Journal
Gr 1-4-Lee-Tai based this story on the experiences of her grandparents and her mother, who were interned in Topaz, Utah, during World War II. With quiet understatement, the text focuses on the confusion and sadness young Mari feels after her family's abrupt relocation to the camp. In the harsh desert landscape, she thinks wistfully of her home, where she played with her brother in a yard filled with flowers. Her parents are worried about her silence and listlessness, but an art class offers her a means of expressing her feelings. She makes a friend as well, and when her desert sunflowers put up seedlings, she feels a new sense of hope. The story is told in both English and Japanese, and the earth-toned illustrations, created using watercolors, ink, tissue paper, and acrylic paint, nicely detail the simple plot. Hoshino modeled some of her compositions on those of Hisako Hibi, the author's grandmother and a prominent Japanese-American painter. Other picture books dealing with this topic include Eve Bunting's So Far from the Sea (Clarion, 1998), Yoshiko Uchida's The Bracelet (Philomel, 1993), and Rick Noguchi and Deneen Jenks's Flowers from Mariko (Lee & Low, 2001). Lee-Tai's tale, with its emphasis on the internees' dignity and feelings, offers the gentlest introduction to this tragic episode.-Marilyn Taniguchi, Beverly Hills Public Library, CA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
"Spring comes after winter, and flowers bloom again. Peace comes after war." Her father's philosophy is young Mari's hope as she plants a handful of sunflower seeds in the sun-parched, barbed-wire-bound yard of the WWII internment camp at Topaz, Utah. Like thousands of other innocent American citizens, Mari and her family have been forced to leave their home to live in a relocation center; they are determined to preserve their self-respect and some semblance of a normal life. Patience and persistence let Mari find comfort in drawing; drawing lets her find questions and the courage to ask them. With time and care, Mari also finds that her sunflowers have sprouted, despite difficult, drought-blighted beginnings. This gentle metaphor, presented in English and Japanese, germinates from the real-life experiences of the author's family. Hoshino's watercolor-and-mixed-media illustrations are golden, topaz-touched; their palette and composition hint of the classic nursery rhyme art of Jessie Wilcox Smith and others, aptly evoking the era they depict. A satisfying introduction and backmatter, including personal notes from the author and artist, acknowledgments and translation credits, make this a richly informative introduction to a subject little-addressed in works for children. (Picture book. 5-10)

Product Details

Lee & Low Books, Inc.
Publication date:
Edition description:
Bilingual English-Japanese
Product dimensions:
9.90(w) x 10.80(h) x 0.40(d)
AD790L (what's this?)
Age Range:
6 - 8 Years

Meet the Author

Felicia Hoshinois a graphic designer and an award-winning illustrator of picture books, among them Lee & Low's A Place Where Sunflowers Grow and Little Sap and Monsieur Rodin. In addition to creating mixed-media images for children’s books and magazines, she enjoys painting children’s portraits, cooking with her husband, and decorating the walls at home with art created by her son and daughter. Hoshino lives in San Francisco, California, with her family. Her website is felishino.com.

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Place Where Sunflowers Grow 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Amy Lee-Tai's award-winner, A Place Where Sunflowers Grow, is a striking departure from typical picture books. Through the story of little Mari, who cannot understand why her family had to leave their home, young readers are given a poignant glimpse of life in a U.S. Japanese American internment camp during World War II. When Mari finds she cannot draw even a single picture in art class, her teacher suggests that she draw something that had made her happy before her family was forced to move to the camp. Reflecting upon the home she had to leave behind, Mari colors a picture of the back yard where she and her brother played on the swing their Papa built, and where the garden was filled with flowers. Sharing her picture with a classmate, Aiko, opens a friendship that blossoms along with the sunflowers Mari planted weeks before. Felicia Hoshino's illustrations are a perfect complement to the story, capturing not only the innocence of childhood, but the harshness of the dreaded camp. Amy Lee-Tai drew upon the experience of her own family in writing A Place Where Sunflowers Grow, sharing with all of us the little known realities of this sad and shameful chapter in American history. For children six and older, this bilingual book should be available in both school and public libraries.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A lovely bilingual picturebook (English/Japanese), A Place Where Sunflowers Grow by Amy Lee-Tai features illustrations from Felicia Hoshino and is the intimate story of a young girl and her life among thousands of other Japanese American families interned by the government during World War II in the Topaz Relocation Center in Utah. Deftly contributing to a historically ill state of America and their world, A Place Where Sunflowers Grow follows Mari through the beginning of her art classes during the heat of the summer, her discovery of life, her newly found passion for art, and the use of her art to cope with the harsh circumstances of her family's confinement. Inspired by the author's personal life and family history, A Place Where Sunflowers Grow is very highly recommended for all young readers ages 6 to 10, as well school and community librarians seeking to augment their bilingual picturebook collections.