So Far from the Sea
Written by: Eve Bunting
Illustrated by: Chris K. Soentpiet
Grade Level: 4 – 8
Ages: 9 – 13 years old
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In 1942, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Japanese Americans living in the West Coast were relocated to internment camps, such as the Manzanar War Relocation Center in California, because of their race. Decades after and told from the point of view of a 7-year-old Japanese American girl named Laura, this is a story of her family’s trip to Manzanar to make one last visit to her grandfather, who died and is buried in the camp, before they move to the East Coast. Through conversations with her parents and stories her father tells of his and her grandfather’s life in Manzanar, Laura struggles to make sense of the racial injustice. She tries to digest what the place means to her. She explores concepts dealing with her, her grandfather’s, and her family’s identity. In the end, despite her questions and emotions, Laura finds a way to honor her grandfather as a true American.
Element 3: Exploring Issues of Social Injustice
This story deals with a dark chapter in America’s history. Driven by suspicion and mistrust, Americans of Japanese ancestry who lived in the Pacific Coast were interned in relocation camps after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, despite being Americans, simply because of their race. As Laura’s father explains to her and her brother, “The government thought we might do something to help Japan. So they kept us in these camps.” This book explores sensitive issues dealing with race and racial injustice, prejudice, dignity and human rights, and war hysteria in a way that takes the tender age of its audience into account.
Although Japan and America are now close allies, and the issues that resulted in Japanese American internment happened many decades ago, the lessons we can learn from that period are still very relevant today. The U.S. being a super power and global player continues to be involved in global conflicts and the war on terrorism. How do we deal then with our countrymen whose race and family originated from countries we are in conflict with, such as Muslims and Americans of Arabic ancestry, post-911?
With enough foundational understanding of World War II and the bombing of Pearl Harbor, divide the class into five groups to represent the following groups: 1) Japanese American families interned at one of the internment camps, 2) other Asian families (non-Japanese) living in the West Coast, 3) a Jewish family living in the West Coast, 4) a family whose neighbor or friend/s have just been sent to an internment camp, 5) the U.S. Government. For groups 1-4, what are some thoughts, questions, or experiences this particular group may have or may be going through during that time? For group 5, what reasons may have justified the government’s actions then? At the end of the group discussion, have a whole class discussion on what each group came up with and shared.