Today I have for you a wonderful middle school read for 4th – 5th graders called Paper Wishes by Lois Sepahban.
Paper Wishes takes place in 1942 America, shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. After Pearl Harbor, Japanese immigrants and Japanese Americans were treated with suspicion and on February 19, 1924 FDR signed Executive Order 9066. This order ultimately rounded up any Japanese living in the United States and sent them to segregated communities called relocation camps.
Paper Wishes is the story of a ten year old girl, Manami, and her family’s relocation and life in one of these camps. Written from Manami’s perspective, we see a little girl lose the life she has known, her beloved dog Yujiin, and her will to speak. Although, her family tries to make the best of the situation, Manami is devastated when Yujiin is taken from her and stops speaking.
Through Manami’s eyes we gain insight into an injustice that the American government later apologizes for. We see a people forced to leave their homes to live in unfamiliar and fenced in villages. We watch as traditions are forced upon Manami and her friends. We “hear” whispers of riot and the taboo of interracial coupling. But we also see hope and perseverance; the willingness and ability to thrive in impossible situations.
This story was both heart breaking and inspiring. What’s more, is it is so believable. Sepahban does children’s historical fiction right. We aren’t tossed facts and we aren’t told what to feel. We view this part of history through the eyes of a little girl and what information we glean is only what a child would see, hear, think and feel. Manami knows something is going on and she understands certain aspects of it but she feels more than she knows and this is something that speaks to the intuitive nature of children.
Yujiin. Ohhh Yujiin. What is it about dogs that crushes your heart. Just like Manami, my mind was absorbed with thoughts of Yujiin throughout the story. No matter what was going on, Yujiin was there. And *spoiler alert* just as life isn’t always fair, we never find out what happens to Yujiin–we are left to wonder and hope. Yujiin’s loss is a metaphor for loss freedoms and the unknowable the Japanese Americans had to deal with during this time period.
This is a serious, thoughtful book that will teach kids a side of American history that many are not aware of and it will also foster empathy. An emotional read but also a quick, easy one that shouldn’t intimidate reluctant readers.
That’s all for now!