Fortunately, the Japanese internment during World War II is no longer under the historical rug. I can remember when our schools, history textbooks, and libraries ignored it. Over the last twenty or thirty years, a number of both nonfiction and fiction books have been published on what is surely one of the worst things the U.S. and Canadian governments have ever done to their own citizens. For nonfiction, besides the well known personal stories such as Farewell To Manzanar, Looking Like The Enemy by Greunewald, and Oppenheim's Dear Miss Breed, I would mention Greg Robinson's thorough and objective history, By The Order Of The President: FDR And The Internment Of Japanese Americans. For fiction, besides Snow Falling On Cedars, I'd suggest Tristi Pinkston's Nothing To Regret, All TheWay Home by Tatlock and, of particular interest to YA readers, Sandra Dallas's award winning (WILLA Award finalist & SPUR Award for best novel), Tallgrass (2007). This coming-of-age novel is a first-person narrative observed through the eyes of the curious, smart and sensitive girl, Rennie Stroud, "The summer I was thirteen, the Japanese came to...the old Tallgrass Ranch, which the government had turned into a relocation camp...." The camp's existence affects and upsets both the Stroud family and inhabitants of Ellis, Colorado. (the real camp's name was Amache located near Granada, CO). Beliefs, prejudices, stereotypes are challenged, " 'Are you a Jap?' 'I am an American.' 'You’re a Jap is what you are. We don't sell to Japs...." To make the atmosphere and situation more volatile, a child is murdered and, of course, guess who is suspected? " 'Don't you remember...about the Reddick girl? You want Betty Joyce to get that done to her by...Mr. Japamoto? You want your own daughter raped and murdered....?' " In spite of the community's prejudice, Rennie's courageous father hires three Japanese boys to help with the sugar beet harvest. Hostility and threats descend on the Stroud family. Life is no picnic for the child of principled parents, "Dad had done the right thing in hiring the boys, but part of me wished he'd tried harder to find some white men to work the beets." Page turning tension is maintained throughout a story populated with a diversity of characters and subplots all branching off of the internment -- family issues, mob hysteria, war casualties, violence, and a murder mystery while Rennie tries to make sense of it all. As her dad observes, "I don't see things'll hardly ever back to normal,...I thought folks would settle down after a bit...And every one of the Japanese boys who've gone to work on the farms around here has done a fine job...You'd think that would count for something...." The mother reminds him, " '...Ellis boys are getting killed, some of them by the Japanese.' " As you might guess, Tallgrass reminds many readers of To Kill A Mockingbird. The point of view, a young narrator and main character, prejudice and discrimination, defending principles and morality, minority versus majority, and a crime do warrant comparison with the classic. Although Tallgrass lacks a courtroom drama, has more of a historical dimension, and the single "internment" does not equal the severity and scope of the Afro-American experience, similar themes and similar emotional effect on the reader do justify the comparison. Author of numerous novels and awards, Ms. Dallas's literary skill and talent equals Ms. Lee's. Obviously, "Mockingbird's" stature has been enhanced by a great movie and required reading by generations of school students. Without hesitation, I would suggest that Tallgrass deserves no less. Recommended by Robert L. Hicks, Librarian.
- Historical Fiction
St. Martin's, 2007
Social Studies Curriculum
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