Dear Miss Breed : True Stories of the Japanese American Incarceration During World War II and a Librarian Who Made a Difference

by Joanne Oppenheim


Scholastic Nonfiction
February 2006


Fiction
Ages 12 – 14 . Grades 7 – 9

Library of Congress: 2004059009


Lexile measure: 1040L

DRA: 60

Guided Reading: Y

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In the early 1940's, Clara Breed was the children's librarian at the San Diego Public Library. But she was also friend to dozens of Japanese American children and teens when war broke out in December of 1941. The story of what happened to these American citizens is movingly told through letters that her young friends wrote to Miss Breed during their internment. This remarkable librarian and humanitarian served as a lifeline to these imprisoned young people, and was brave enough to speak out against a shameful chapter in American history.
Joanne_oppenheim_sm
Joanne Oppenheim

Joanne Oppenheim is the author of more than fifty books for and about children. In addition, she is the president and cofounder of Oppenheim Toy Portfolio, Inc. One of the country's most highly regarded child development experts, Oppenheim is seen regularly on NBC's Today show, where she is a contributor.

Her latest book, Dear Miss Breed: True Stories of the Japanese American Incarceration During World War II and a Librarian Who Made a Difference, came about when Joanne was planning her high school reunion and began searching for Ellen Yukawa, a Japanese American friend. Through her search she discovered the website of the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles and the letters to Miss Breed. With the National Museum's help, Joanne eventually found her friend and discovered that Ellen had spent the war years at Poston, the internment camp in Arizona from where the letters to Miss Breed were sent. Eager to write about and share these stories, for three years Joanne Oppenheim worked on this book, locating and interviewing many of Miss Breed's "children." Joanne hopes that her readers view this story, not as an isolated event of the past, but rather as an event to keep in our collective memory to ensure that it doesn't happen again.

Joanne Oppenheim lives in New York City with her husband and is the mother of three grown children and the grandmother of seven.

SELECT REVIEWS:

  • Booklist 1/1/06
    *STAR* Oppenheim, Joanne. Dear Miss Breed: True Stories of the Japanese American Incarceration during World War II and a Librarian Who Made a Difference. Feb. 2006. 288p. illus. index. Scholastic Nonfiction, $22.99 (0-439-56992-3). 940.53.
    Gr. 7–10. Like Michael O. Tunnell's The Children of Topaz (1996), this passionately written history bears witness to the World War II injustices endured by Japanese Americans, from a vantage point of particular relevance to young people. In a poignant introduction, seasoned children's writer Oppenheim explains how her hunt for a former classmate, a Japanese American, serendipitously led her to an Internet profile of San Diego children's librarian Clara Breed, and to a collection of letters written to Breed by her incarcerated Japanese patrons–grateful, illuminating responses to Breed's faithful missives and care packages containing books and other gifts. Although the letters (and interviews with their grown-up authors) form the narrative's bedrock, Oppenheim weaves them into a broader account amplified by photos, archival materials (including a startlingly racist cartoon by Dr. Seuss), and moving quotations from the later reparation hearings: “I was just 10 years old when I became a 'squint-eyed yellow-bellied Jap.'” Along with the basic facts, Oppenheim urges readers to critically interpret primary sources and identify “governmental doublespeak”; the words “incarceration” or “concentration” are consciously employed here as correctives for softpedaling terminology like “internment” and “relocation.” Unclear references in the children's letters are not always annotated, and the recurring discussion of professional concerns facing Breed (whose own letters to the camps have been lost) often seems to cater too obviously to Oppenheim's adult readers. But the aggregate deserves commendation for its sheer quantity of accessible, exhaustively researched information about a troubling period, more resonant now than ever, when American ideals were compromised by fear and unfortunate racial assumptions. Eight pages of unusually readable, wide-ranging endnotes and an exhaustive bibliography conclude, evidence of Oppenheim's all-consuming research process. –Jennifer Mattson

    Kirkus 12/15/05 Looking back to a shameful but characteristic chapter in this country's history, Oppenheim wraps an angry account of the U.S. West Coast Japanese-American population's forced removal in the panic following Pearl Harbor around a heartfelt tribute to Clara Breed, a San Diego children's librarian who kept in touch with several of her evacuated young "regulars" and became an advocate for their release. The text is sometimes repetitive or overstuffed with minor details, but—supported by frequent excerpts from letters, passages (pointedly labeled "Testimony") from the 1981 reparation hearings and lines from the author's own interviews with survivors—it not only creates a scathing picture of the living conditions those children and their families were forced to endure, but also bears eloquent witness to their deeply rooted patriotism and unshakable determination to make the best of things, come what may. Supplemented by a range of period commentary and illustrated with rare snapshots, this is rich in primary material and also bears unmistakable relevance in this post-9/11 atmosphere. (bibliography, notes) (Nonfiction. 11+)


    VOYA5Q • 3P • M • J •S
    Oppenheim, Joanne. Dear Miss Breed: True Stories of the Japanese American Incarceration During World War II and a Librarian Who Made a Difference, Scholastic.2006.288p. $22.99. 0-439-56992-3.. Index. Illus. Photos. Maps. Biblio. Notes. Appendix.

    In his last year, this reviewer’s father, a Pearl Harbor vet, spent time in a daycare program for dementia victims. Routinely he would return home to recount stories of a fellow daycare resident, a Japanese American woman who had spent time at M

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