Below is an annotated list of children's literature for the elementary classroom. The books are organized by the Six Elements of Social Justice Curriculum Design (Picower, 2007). It is based on work by pre-service teachers at Montclair State University. They have read and reviewed these books and provided insights into how they can be used in K-5 settings.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

So Far From the Sea

Title: So Far From the Sea

Author: Eve Banting

Illustrator: Chris K. Soentpiet

Grade Level: 4-7

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Summary: This book is about a young Japanese-American girl named Laura who goes with her family to visit her Grandfather's grave at a former internment camp.  This is the last time they will be able to visit the grave because they are moving across the country from California to Boston, Massachusetts.  Their mother brings silk flowers to place on his grave, and Laura brings something special to leave her Grandfather.  Her Grandfather was a fisherman before World War II, and he loved the sea.  He was relocated to the Manzanar War Relocation Center with Laura's father.  There were once guard towers and a barbed wire fence that surrounded the camp, however all that is left now is a gatehouse, monument, and gravesite.  Laura's father explains that they were relocated to this place after Japan attacked the United States.  Laura's mother was in a different camp in another state, but the camps were all the same.  When Grandfather was relocated, the government took his pride and joy, his boat, Arigato, along with his house and dignity.  At the end of the story, Laura leaves her father's Cub Scout neckerchief on her Grandfather's grave.

Element 3: So Far From the Sea identifies the social injustice that Japanese-Americans faced during World War II.  It encompasses the issues of prejudice that existed at that time, and the results of that prejudice was interning American citizens.  There was such fear and anger held by Americans over the bombing of Pearl Harbor that it directly influenced their prejudices towards anyone of Japanese descent.  It is discouraging to think that we basically imprisoned a whole group of people based on the actions of others and the mistrust we had towards them.  The end of the book is really great because Laura's father says, "Sometimes in the end there is no right or wrong. It is just a thing that happened long years ago.  A thing that cannot be changed."  While many people might find this apologetic towards the actions of the United States, I think it really encompasses the fact that social injustices exist, but we are meant to learn from them.  There is the opportunity to move on and create equilibrium and trust once more.

Activity: An activity to do with students after reading this book would be maybe to parallel the similarities and differences between what was happening in the concentration camps in Germany at the same time in World War II with a big Venn Diagram for the class to fill in together after doing a unit on  the Holocaust. This will show similar uses of oppression to different cultural and ethnic groups.  You can then create connections to cultural, racial, or ethnic groups that might be feeling similar forces of oppression, such as Native Americans on reservations or African Americans in low-income housing in the inner-city.

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