Saturday, September 2, 2017

Fred Korematsu Speaks Up by Laura Atkins and Stan Yogi, illustrated by Yutaka Houlette

Born in Oakland, California in 1919, Fred Korematsu was a young Japanese American who wanted more out of life than working in his parents nursery growing roses. He had been a boy scout, had a bit of a mischievous streak, ran track and played tennis in high school, and loved to dance to the jazz music of Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington. 

At twenty-two, he had a girlfriend named Ida, an Italian American girl whom he had to date secretly - both of their parents disapproved of them as a couple. Fred took a job building ships to save for a snazzy Pontiac, and planned on marrying Ida (despite family objections). 

But on December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and Fred’s life turned upside down. But after President Roosevelt sign Executive Order 9066 which forced all Japanese and Japanese Americans into internment camps, Fred decides to defy the order. Claiming he is Spanish and Hawaiian, Fred gets away with his ruse for a while, but eventually the authorities find and arrest him.

Fred’s arrest leads to a friendship with ACLU lawyer Ernest Besig, who represents him in court, believing that the internment of Japanese Americans is wrong and a violation of their rights. Meanwhile, Fred finds himself living in a horse stall at Tanforan race track. Sadly, no one at Tanforan is proud or supportive of Fred’s stand against Executive Order 9066, not even his family.

Eventually, Fred is sent to an internment camp in the middle of nowhere in Topaz, Utah. Ernest Besig is still working on his case, but ultimately even the United States Supreme Court agrees with the President that it is a “military necessity” to intern the country’s Japanese Americans. 

While he lost his case in 1944, and believed that was the end of it, little could Fred imagine that his simple act of defiance would ultimately resurface many years later, after evidence of government misconduct is discovered in relation to the internment of so many Japanese Americans and the loss of everything they loved and had worked so hard for. In 1983, Fred finds himself back in court when his case is reopened. This time, Fred wins and that win leads to the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which grants reparations to the Japanese Americans interned during WWII.

Fred Korematsu Speaks Up is a fascinating book, and part of what makes it so engaging is that it is told using various means. Each important aspect of Fred’s personal story is related at the beginning of every chapter in free verse. This gives the reader a more intimate picture, accompanied by Houlette’s simple but affective illustrations, of who Fred really was and what he was up against, as well as his reasons for defying an Executive Order. 

Fred’s story is followed by factual information pertinent to what has proceeded it, the national events that impacted his life. Each of these pages contains definitions, and a timeline, as well as plenty of photos that also illustration the information presented. 

Fred Korematsu Speaks Up is the first book in the new Fighting for Justice series, and it is a truely excellent book for introducing young readers to this shameful aspect of WWII on the home front. Back matter includes Source Notes, Bibliography, a personal reflection by Fred’s daughter Karen Korematsu about her father, and a section on “Speaking Up for Justice: From Fred’s Day to Ours: with suggestions for what young people can do in today’s world, a world that is seeing a resurgent of the kind of thinking that put people into internment camps in the first place. 

A word about Fred’s name: his parents named him Toyosaburo, but his 1st grade teacher couldn’t or wouldn’t learn to pronounce it, and suggested Fred, instead. I wonder how that made him feel.

If you have ever really wondered whether one person can make a difference in the world, Fred Korematsu’s story will definitely be one that will reassure and inspire you.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was bought for my personal libraty


  1. This book caught my eye, because today, at the Washington State Fairgrounds, there's a ceremony honoring surviving Japanese internees, many of whom were detained there at the fairgrounds. But it's not just this book -- I have just spent the better part of an hour exploring your blog. I especially appreciate the detailed reviews of picture books related to WWII. Thank you so much for your work.

  2. What a timely reminder of a piece of history which we must not forget.

  3. This sounds fascinating. I have never heard of Fred Korematsu- but he sure seems like someone we should learn about. I look forward to checking out his story and learning more about him. I imagine having a teacher calling you by a different name because they can't pronounce your given name would make you feel sad/uncomfortable.

    Thanks for sharing!

  4. I have never heard of Fred Korematsu, although I've read other stories of individuals that were in the camps. This one is based on a true story and someone who made a difference for all those who were forced into camps. Very timely. My kind of story!