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
, 112 pages
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.

Fan mail: a teacher email about Be a Changemaker

I recent­ly received this email from a mid­dle-school teacher:

I want­ed to let you know that one of my stu­dents has tak­en your book to heart.  He’s been car­ry­ing it with him for six weeks, and he is in the process of try­ing to start a nature club at school.  He is a super hard work­er, and a won­der­ful, bright, sen­si­tive 12-year-old boy–the type who might real­ly make a dent in some of this world’s prob­lems. He is pas­sion­ate about this endeav­or, but he does­n’t feel that he’s being tak­en seri­ous­ly: adults are assum­ing he’s not going to work hard enough, he feels like things aren’t mov­ing fast enough, and he’s dis­heart­ened. Still, he recent­ly cit­ed your book to me, say­ing, “She says some­times it can take for­ev­er, and then some­times things hap­pen out of the blue,” so your words mat­ter to him.

In the rush and hur­ry of get­ting through my inbox, this mes­sage brought me to a full stop. I’ve always said that I will feel like I’ve achieved suc­cess when I hear from one read­er that my work mat­tered to them. Though not direct­ly from the read­er him­self, this mes­sage from such a car­ing, ded­i­cat­ed, clear­ly amaz­ing teacher on her stu­den­t’s behalf feels every bit as won­der­ful. Read­ing this email was an even grander “first” for me than see­ing my name in print for the first time, or hold­ing the final book in my hands, or sign­ing stacks of books at an event. This was a real con­nec­tion with a young read­er, a poten­tial shift in the tra­jec­to­ry of this young man’s life that might not have occurred with­out my work. It’s both hum­bling and validating.
I have no doubt in the world that this stu­dent is indeed the type who might real­ly make a dent in some of this world’s prob­lems. It wor­ries me, though, that even with this sup­port­ive teacher clear­ly on his side, he stills that one of the obsta­cles he faces is oth­er adults assum­ing he’s not going to work hard enough. I mean real­ly, what have we got to lose, adults? If they encour­age him and he lat­er quits, there’s no harm done: He feels val­ued and respect­ed, he learns some­thing about him­self, and things go back to the way there were before. If they encour­age him and he suc­ceeds, the out­come real­ly isn’t all that dif­fer­ent: He feels val­ued and respect­ed, he learns some­thing about him­self, and things get a lit­tle bit better.
I know that I’ve been guilty of sim­i­lar reac­tions with my own chil­dren and their ideas. I’ve been too quick to point out what chal­lenges I see and the rea­sons why their ideas might not be per­fect­ly fea­si­ble. I ques­tioned their long-term com­mit­ment to the projects they pro­posed. What I thought was help­ful real­ism, how­ev­er, was­n’t real­ly that help­ful at all. Indeed, what if my “real­ism” was actu­al­ly cyn­i­cism, and maybe their “fan­tasies” could have actu­al­ly worked? We’ll nev­er know, because count­less times I’ve inad­ver­tent­ly stopped them in their tracks before they even got start­ed, all in the name of think­ing things through and not embark­ing on some­thing they could­n’t finish.
I think many of us (adults, espe­cial­ly, but kids, too) have become so goal-ori­ent­ed that we don’t want to do or sup­port any­thing that does­n’t seem very like­ly to suc­ceed. We’re over­ly focused on the results, when so many of the poten­tial ben­e­fits come from the process itself. We don’t want to waste time on some­thing that might fail, but we for­get that we learn by mak­ing mistakes.
If I’d focused on the like­li­hood of ever get­ting an email like this one, I would prob­a­bly nev­er have stuck with the process of hon­ing my craft, revis­ing my drafts, putting myself out there, etc. But if I had­n’t done that, I would­n’t be the per­son I am today, and I would­n’t have received an email from a teacher that brought me to tears.
I’m going to try to do bet­ter for my own kids and oth­er young peo­ple I inter­act with, and I hope you’ll com­mit to try­ing to sup­port the young change­mak­ers in your life as well. Let’s val­ue their ideas and inten­tions for what they are, and let go of our expec­ta­tions or con­cerns over the results. I have no doubt that, giv­en the right encour­age­ment, they are all the types who might real­ly make a dent in some of this world’s prob­lems. And we need each and every one of them to try.

Why write Be a Changemaker for teens?

To cel­e­brate the Unit­ed Nations’ Inter­na­tion­al Youth Day, I wrote a guest blog for the Beyond Words blog explain­ing why I wrote Be a Change­mak­er specif­i­cal­ly for young read­ers. Here’s an excerpt:

We know that young peo­ple have always been at the fore­front of soci­etal change. Ado­les­cence is a time when peo­ple begin to ques­tion and cri­tique the morals and stan­dards of the soci­ety in which they are liv­ing. Teens and young adults start to appre­ci­ate the com­plex­i­ties of social prob­lems and the trade­offs that come with var­i­ous solu­tions to those prob­lems. In addi­tion, young peo­ple are known for cre­at­ing, adopt­ing, and cir­cu­lat­ing the cul­ture of their times, be it the peaceniks of the 60s or the hip-hop move­ment of today.

Mod­ern youth, how­ev­er, are more empow­ered than ever to shape the world as they see fit…

To read the whole thing, click here.