Title: A place where sunflowers grow
Author: Amy Lee-Tai
Illustrator: Felicia Hoshino
Publisher: San Francisco, Calif: Children's Book Press.
Grade level: Grade 2-5
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Summary: this is a story about a little girl Mari and her family who had been forced to leave their home in California for Topaz Relocation Center in Utah. Their new life is miserable, and Mari does not understand why. She plants sunflower seeds in hope that they would grow into the beautiful garden to make her life in a desert a little brighter. In Topaz Mari starts attending the art classes which help her make friends with Aiko. Although there is nothing good to draw at first, with the teacher's help Mari starts thinking of her happy life before Topaz. Finally, as Mari finds comfort in expressing herself through the art, the sunflowers begin to grow, and she becomes stronger and more resilient.
Element III: Exploring Issues of Social Injustice
Amy Lee-Tai tells the story of her mother, who along with other 120,000 Japanese Americans, was unlawfully sent to the internment camp during World War II . A place where sunflowers grow is a very powerful story which teaches about the evil of oppression and unfair treatment of innocent people. The story is told from a perspective of a young girl who is frightened and sad to live in unfamiliar place with no hope for the future.
Wonderful illustrations of Felicia Hoshino help the readers to identify with the suffering characters. In the book we can see the colorful depiction of the joyful past and many dull pictures with the barbed wires representing the hardships of Japanese American families during their time in the camp.
Despite the misfortunes the people in the story support one another. They cope with the distress through the art. The sunflowers as a symbol of hope invite the reader to think of various ways to fight injustice and stay human.
Follow up activity:
Incorporating art into the lesson by discussing mixed media used by the illustrator Felicia Hoshino and how the illustrations align with the narrative enriching or supporting it. The illustrations include the use of watercolor, ink, tissue paper, and acrylic paint.
The second step would be letting the students create their own artworks and discuss them in class.
A place where sunflowers grow is also a historical fiction representing Japanese American culture. The story written in English and Japanese gives a glimpse on the life style and habits of Japanese Americans. Since the book includes short introduction of the experiences of Japanese Americans during World War II students who become interested to learn more about this cultural group may use the book as a reference.
Another activity to do with the Elementary students would be to grow sunflowers from the seeds and make observations which can enhance students' knowledge about the natural world.