Author: Ken Mochizuki
Illustrator: Dom Lee
Grade Level: 3-5
Summary: Baseball Saved Us is the story of “Shorty”, a young Japanese American forced to move to an internment camp during World War II. While Shorty and his family languish in the desert camp, his father decides to build a baseball field as a way to try to find normalcy in their awful situation. The residents of the camp rally around the idea; men help with construction of the field, while women use bed sheets to make uniforms for the players. Shorty practices hard and learns the game of baseball.
After the families are released, Shorty finds himself isolated at school and in his community. As he had before his incarceration, he again hears whites call him “Jap”, and he knows it is no compliment. However Shorty once again gains comfort from the game of baseball, and his ability on the field propels him beyond the hatred that surrounds him.
Element 3: The book explores the social injustice of the treatment of Japanese Americans by the US government during World War II. From the perspective of a young boy, readers learn how the actions of US citizens and the government deeply affected Japanese Americans- the vast majority of whom considered themselves to be American. These citizens were forced to leave their homes and move to camps in the desert for no other reason than their ethnic identity.
Application: In a grade four classroom, Baseball Saved Us can serve to illuminate lesser-told stories of World War II. In addition parallels can be drawn to ways in which we treat people today. For instance, the so-called “Global War on Terrorism” has created a great degree of animosity toward Muslims (or those who appear to be Muslim) in the United States. We can look at ways people prejudge those who resemble foreign combatants, and we can also explore methods the government might have employ that contribute to this treatment. Further we can look within ourselves to identify our own prejudices and poor behaviors.
Reflection: Beautiful illustrations in this book help to engage and affect without being heavy-handed. Although his writing is gentle, Mochizuki pulls no punches, and children will likely relate the story to how some of their peers might be treated everyday. Perhaps after reading this book they will view those who are different or cast out with a bit more empathy.