Review: Fred Korematsu Speaks Up

Yesterday, January 30th, was Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution. I didn’t know much about Fred Korematsu’s story before reading this brand new book, Fred Korematsu Speaks Up, written by Laura Atkins and Stan Yogi, and illustrated by Yutaka Houlette. I’m so thankful, now, that I do.

Fred Korematsu Speaks Up cover

Heyday Books
Middle-grade
Hardcover
, 112 pages
I
SBN: 978-159714-368-4
Price: $18.00

The book shares the story of Fred, and second-generation Japanese American living on the West Coast during World War II, when the United States forced immigrants and citizens alike into internment camps. Fred resisted the order, and was jailed. The ACLU took up his case, which he eventually lost. He lost more than just the case. Many Japanese Americans turned on him, and he was officially considered a convicted felon. More than 40 years later, the ACLU decided to try his case again after finding new documents showing that the government had lied in his original case… and this time they won, setting an important precedent going forward. Fred knew what was happening was wrong and stood up against it. He was a changemaker.

Here’s an excerpt from the main text:

Fred challenged something
he thought was unfair.

He spoke up–
for himself
and for all Japanese Americans,
even when no one stood with him.

It was not easy.
But Fred fought
to make the United States–
his country–
a fairer place.

And he won.

We all won.

I love the lyrical, spare text of the book. I love the engaging layout and design featuring illustrations, full-color photos, definitions of terms, and historical timelines. There are also sidebars and pullout boxes that explain concepts in greater detail and add context. And I especially love the callout bubbles that ask readers direct questions, such as, “Have you ever been punished for something you didn’t do?” These make Fred’s story all the more relatable and help readers make personal connections from Fred’s story to the injustices they see all around them every day.

In addition to nonfiction text features such source notes, bibliography, photo and text credits, and an index, the book also includes a fantastic section about how readers can stand up for social justice themselves. I’m sure it will encourage readers to pursue activism and changemaking for themselves.

The timing for a book like this couldn’t, unfortunately, be more timely and important, as it comes just days after the executive order banning immigration from certain countries.

As Fred’s daughter Karen writes in the afterword:

Fred Korematsu’s story is the reminder of the constant danger that the government will overreach unless the public and the courts are vigilant.

I urge you to check this one out for the children in your life, for yourself, and for our country and ALL of its citizens.

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