Thursday, May 14, 2015

Baseball Saved Us
By Ken Mochizuki
Illustrated by Dom Lee

Awards: Parent’s Choice Award

Poignant and thought-provoking memoir of a young Japanese American boy’s years in a WWII internment camp.

Book Talk
Our narrator begins his story explaining to us that his family had been sent to live in a desolate detention camp.  It was in a desert and behind a  barbed-wire fence. He often asked his father to explain to him, yet again, why his family had been sent there and the answer was always the same-and something the boy simply cannot understand.  They were there because the American government thought that they could not be trusted while the US was at war with Japan.

Some lines from the book:
“We weren’t in a camp that was fun, like summer camp. Ours was in the middle of nowhere, and we were behind a barbed-wire fence. Soldiers with guns made sure we stayed there, and the man in the tower saw everything we did, no matter where we were.”

The families in the camp were suffering on many levels and the boy tells us of detailed examples of loss of dignity and loss of respect for themselves.

The boy’s father decided that they all need something positive to focus on—so he created baseball teams for the children. The mothers plunged into finding whatever they could to make uniforms and the fathers prepared the fields and practiced with the children.

The boy tells us that he is the smallest and always the last to be picked on the team.  Yet he seems to have tremendous determination to do well. One afternoon, he became the hero of the team by hitting a home run and helping the team to win the game.  He was hoisted up into the air by his team in celebration. It was a tremendously happy moment for him.

Soon after that, the war was over but things didn't get any better for the family as they tried to readjust back at their old house.  The neighbors and the kids at school still did not trust them. Even though the family was, of course, American-they looked Japanese. Our narrator tells us that he had no friends at school and again, he was never picked for teams.

When baseball season came around again, he went out for the team. He knew he had really improved because of all the practice at the camp, but he was not taken seriously by his teammates—his size and heritage factored in again. But once he was on the team, everyone saw that he was a pretty good player. Even so, he had to endure prejudice and verbal insults by the opposing crowds when his team played their first game. 

However, he again comes through as the hero of the team by hitting a big home run to win the game and the respect of his teammates.  Baseball did, indeed, save him.

Suggested Uses as a Mentor Text:
Book Genre: Historical Fiction
Reading Workshop strategies: Predicting, Connecting, Synthesizing
Writing Workshop: Personal Narrative, Memoir, Strong Leads / Good Beginnings, Elaboration
Curricular Themes: US History (WW2 / Japanese Internment Camps), Diversity/ We Need Diverse Books

Ken Mochizuki’s website

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