Barbed Wire Baseball by Marissa Moss, illustrated by Yuko Shimizu. Grades 2-5. Abrams, April 2013. 40 pages. Review copy provided by my local library.
Kenichi Zenimura (known as Zeni) loved baseball. Every since he was a little kid, he wanted nothing more than to play ball. And despite the fact that he grew up to be a small man (just five feet tall!), he did achieve his dream of becoming a professional ball player. When World War II started, Zeni and his family were forced into an internment camp for people of Japanese descent. But Zeni would not let that keep him from playing. With help from many people at the camp, Zeni built a ball field and brought baseball to the camp!
This is an inspiring story of one man's passion for sport and the things people will do to help each other. Zeni didn't build a ball field alone. Many people helped, from clearing the land to building grandstands to sewing uniforms. The reality of the internment camps isn't glossed over, but the story definitely concentrates on hope.
Yuko Shimuzi's illustrations help bring the desolate interment camp, located in the Arizona desert, to life. Colors are muted throughout the book, giving it an aged feel. Spreads set in the camp show how bleak and lifeless the land is until Zeni and his friends irrigate and grow grass for the field. The camp is portrayed with barbed wire fences to depict the fact that the camp was a prison, even though the barbed wire was eventually removed at that particular camp. This is addressed in the afterward, along with additional information about Zeni and baseball in the camp.
Back matter also includes an author's note and an artist's note, which talk about how Marissa Moss was inspired to write the story and how Yuko Shimuzi researched to make the illustrations as historically accurate as possible. An index and a bibliography (for both the author and artist) are provided. Yay for citing sources!!
This is a great book to add to lessons on World War II, particularly lessons about the Japanese internment or the home front. It would also work for lessons on immigration, BUT don't file this away as strictly a classroom book. It's a story that will have wide appeal with sports fans and kids interested in history.
The same issue gets a fictional treatment in the picture book Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki, illustrated by Dom Lee. It might be interesting to compare a fiction and nonfiction book on the same subject.
For more on the Japanese internment camps, check out Dear Miss Breed: True Stories of the Japanese American Incarceration During World War II and a Librarian Who Made a Difference by Joanne F. Oppenheim. This book contains letters written by kids in the camps to their beloved librarian Miss Breed.
For more about baseball history, check out We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball by Kadir Nelson or A Whole New Ball Game: The Story of the All-American Girls' Professional Baseball League by Sue Macy.
For more books about Asian-Americans breaking color barriers, check out Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds: The Sammy Lee Story by Paula Yoo (about swimmer Sammy Lee) or Sky High: The True Story of Maggie Gee by Marissa Moss.
Barbed Wire Baseball is on shelves now!
Happy Nonfiction Monday! This week's roundup is at Wrapped in Foil, so make sure you check it out.