In Write to Me: Letters from Japanese American Children to the Librarian They Left Behind, author Cynthia Grady pays tribute to real-life Clara Breed, a World War II-era children’s librarian in the San Diego County Library system.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, many of Miss Breed’s Japanese-American child patrons were unjustly sent with their families to internment camps. The book opens with one patron saying a tearful goodbye to her beloved librarian. Miss Breed gives the girl a stamped and addressed postcard, asking her to write: “We’ll want to know where you are.” Thus begins the librarian’s correspondence with approximately 30 children. They write to Miss Breed about their poor living conditions, the resources they lack, the sicknesses that visit many camps and how happy they are to receive her postcards and books. When the war ends and the Japanese-Americans are released, they “no longer had homes or farms.” In the final spread, we see one girl return, greeting her favorite librarian at the library she never wanted to leave.
Illustrator Amiko Hirao incorporates the children’s postcards into many spreads, all rendered via subdued, soft-focus colored pencils. Both opening and closing endpapers feature World War II-era photographs of Japanese-Americans and the internment camps. In addition to the author’s note, extensive back-matter notes include notable dates in Miss Breed’s life, a selected history of Japanese people in the U.S., a bibliography and more.
This restrained introduction to a painful time in American history serves as a tribute to the power of books to sustain one’s spirit.
Julie Danielson features authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children’s literature blog.