Thursday, September 24, 2020

Displacement written and illustrated by Kiku Hughes

It's 2016, and Japanese American Kiku, 16, and her mother are on vacation in San Francisco from their home in Seattle. Kiku's grandmother had lived in San Francisco before the attack on Pearl Harbor, followed by Executive Order 9066, calling for the roundup and incarceration of all people of Japanese descent living on the West Coast. After looking for house where they lived, Kiku's mother is disappointed to see it has been replaced with a mall. When she goes in to see what's there, Kiku stays outside and that's when the first displacement, as she calls them, happens.

Suddenly, Kiku finds herself in the audience of a violin recital where a young version of her grandmother, Ernestina Teranishi, is performing. Kiku didn't know her grandmother, but she did know that she had been a gifted violinist. Returning to the present, Kiku and her mother head to the hotel, and hear Donald Trump calling for a total shutdown of Muslims entering the US. 

Before leaving San Francisco, Kiku displaces again, this time after Executive Order 9066 has been issued and she finds herself in a line of people being watched by armed guards. Again, returning to the present and heading home to Seattle, Kiku realizes how little she knows about her own Japanese culture and history, in part because her grandmother never spoke to her mother about what happened to the Japanese Americans in the camps. 

Back in Seattle, Kiku displaces once again, finding herself reduced to being Number 19106, and traveling on the same bus as the Teranishi family, heading to Tanforan Assembly Center, a racetrack where the Japanese Americans are forced to live in horse stalls that still smell of manure. There, Kiku lives with a roommate, Aiko Mifune, right next door to the Teranishi family.

Kiku's first two displacements were for short periods of time, but now she finds herself living in the past for an extended time. This means that Kiku can learn something about her grandmother and great grandparents, but it enables author Kiku Hughes to show what went on behind the barbed wire and armed guards. The overcrowding, the poor quality of the food, the lack of privacy in the latrines and showers are part of daily life there, but so is the tenacious spirit of the Japanese people, who are determined to turn their living conditions into something better. Kiku even finds a love interest.

By the time Kiku is transferred to the Topaz Relocation Center in Utah, she knows she won't be returning to the present anytime soon, and determines to make the best of her situation. Once again, she finds herself living near her grandmother and even her love interest from Tanforan. The whole time she is torn as to whether or not to introduce herself to her grandmother, or merely to continue to observe her from afar. Life in Topaz is a real eye-opener for Kiku. People who had been productive and law-abiding are now incarcerated and deprived of their civil rights. When the government issues a loyalty questionnaire,  those who refuse to answer yes on questions 27 and 28, and renounce their Japanese ancestry, face harsh punishment, including Kiku friend Aiko. But after after someone was shot and killed, people really begin to worry about their safety. Does Kiku ever return to the present? Yes, of course, and at a very interesting point in her story. But does her experience in the past change her?  

Displacement is somewhat autobiographical for author Hughes, who also never knew the grandmother who had been in the internment camps during the war. Sending Kiku back in time enables her to show the personal and community trauma that was inflicted on people who had done nothing wrong. What I found most telling is Kiku's feelings of helplessness and her gradual acceptance of her incarceration. That was scary, given today's world. 

I think Hughes really captured Kiku's emotional truth, and through her, readers also know the emotional truth of her grandmother and all the other Japanese people who had been incarcerated for no other reason than their race. Though the word interned is generally used to describe what happened, Hughes chooses to use incarceration, given that people had no freedom and lived surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards, it really did resemble prison-like conditions. 

Displacement is one of the best graphic novels I have read about the Japanese American experience in WWII. You might want to pair it with George Takei's They Called Us Enemy.

You can find an interesting and enlightening interview with Kiku Hughes HERE 

This book is recommended for readers age 12+
This book was an eARC gratefully received NetGalley

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Sunday Funnies # 37: Superman's Origin Story - Meet Superboy

Story Continued Below

From his first appearance in the June 1938 issue of Action Comics #1 and all the way through World War II, Superman was a very popular figure. And yes, how Kal-El arrived in Smallville from Krypton as a baby and was adopted by Ma and Pa Kent, who renamed him Clark Kent, was explained from the beginning. But what about his childhood? Jerry Siegel thought about that and toward the end of 1938, he presented the idea to Detective Comics, but DC they turned it down - twice. Siegel had wanted Superboy to be a bit of a prankster, but the DC didn't think that would jive with the do-good image of Superman. 

Unfortunately, in March 1938, Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster, the artist behind the Superman character, had already sold the rights to the super hero's franchise, so they essentially no longer had a say in Superman matters.

Then, in 1944, after seeing the successful introduction of Robin the Boy Wonder into Batman stories, DC changed its mind about a Superboy story line. But by now, Jerry Siegel was in the Army and writing for Stars and Stripes while stationed in Hawaii. The Superboy origin story, which appeared in More Fun Comics #101 and published in late 1944 (issue date Jan/Feb 1945), was credited Jerry Siegel, but actually written by Don Cameron, and was supposedly drawn by Joe Schuster, though there is speculation that it was only drawn in his studio, not by Joe himself.

Superboy appeared in seven issues of More Fun Comics before he was moved to Adventure Comics #103 (issue date April, published February 1946), where he celebrates his 10th birthday, and finally, in 1949, the by now teenaged Superboy gets his own comic book. The first issue of Superboy appeared (Mar/Apr 1949, published January 1949). Superboy has had a number of incarnations over the years, but here is the original story:

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

The Assignment by Liza M. Wiemer

It's senior year for Logan March and Cade Crawford, students at Riviere HS in upstate New York and they are thrilled to be in the same history class with their favorite teacher, popular Mr. Bartley. But they find themselves shocked and appalled when Mr. Bartley gives them a assignment which they find unacceptable. The assignment is to debate the Nazi's Final Solution by researching the Wannsee Conference held on January 20, 1942 during which the fate of Europe's Jews was decided and then taking a side for or against the decision to exterminate all Jews. And rather than having students choose their own position, they are randomly assigned pro or con. 

While some of the kids in their class immediately begin to embrace their inner Nazi, Logan and Cade are open and clear about their opposition to the assignment, and they flat out refuse to do it. After speaking with Principal McNeil, they receive an email saying that he and Mr. Bartley would like to meet with them.  Before that happens, Cade and Logan head up to Fort Ontario, where the Safe Haven Museum and Education Center is located. a place known for having harbored 982 Jewish refugees from August 1944 to February 1946. There, Logan and Cade work on an alternative assignment based on this rescue to bring with them when they meet with Principal McNeil and Mr. Bartley.

Although Mr. Bartley agrees to offer their assignment as an alternative for students who feel the way Logan and Cade do, the two friends are still not satisfied. After talking to her father, who tells Logan about an organization called Humanity for Peace and Justice, she and Cade must decide if and how far they are willing to take their opposition to the Wannsee Conference assignment into the public realm.

Although the novel is centered on the assignment to debate the fate of Europe's Jewish population as if the students were Nazis sitting around that table in Wannsee, there is a lot going on. Naturally, an assignment like this would bring out the best and the worst in students, as well as those who have no real opinion, and Wiemer hasn't ignored them. The novel is told from different perspectives, including Principal McNeil and Mr. Bartley, and gives readers some needed insight into the thinking of these different characters, though the majority of the novel is told from the point of view of Logan and Cade.  

Neither Logan or Cade are Jewish. I didn't actually find Logan to be a very interesting character except for her passionate stand on the assignment. Her father is a professor, and not terribly available to her, nor are they struggling financially. Cade is much more interesting. His family runs the Lake Ontario Inn and his parents are very dependent on his help to keep things going and it's clear they have money problems. Cade used to be very close to his grandfather before he passed away. He and Cade's grandmother came from Poland before WWII, and before he died, he told Cade about something that happened in Poland that plays strongly into Cade's decision to oppose the assignment. 

The Assignment is based on actual events and students, which I remember reading about when it went public. And I remember that my reaction, as a teacher, as someone who wrote a dissertation on an aspect of the Third Reich, and as a human, was that this was not an assignment to give to any student. Yes, teach them about the Holocaust, including the Wannsee Conference, but don't make them take sides in a debate about genocide. And I felt the same way as I read this novel. 

At one point, Mr. Bartley shows his class the movie Conspiracy . This was an HBO film from 2001 that re-enacted the Wannsee Conference with several well-known and well-liked actors playing the parts of the Nazis. It's a tough film to watch, and I'm not sure I would show it to high school students, certainly not without a trigger warning. 

The Assignment an excellently written book and it will undoubtedly get readers thinking about what they might have done under the same circumstances. And it is definitely a book that will resonate in today's world. While I read, I kept thinking about William Faulkner's line, "The past is never dead. it's not even past." What do you think?

This book is recommended for readers age 13+
This book was an eARC received from NetGalley

Author Liza Wiemer published an Opinion piece that you might be interested in reading. You can find it HERE

The New York Times recently (September 11, 2020) published an article about the 982 refugees who lived in Fort Ontario in Oswego, NY. You can read it HERE

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Mask (The League of Secret Heroes) Book 2 by Kate Hannigan, illustrated by Patrick Spaziante

I was really excited to read Cape, book 1 of The League of Secret Heroes trilogy, so I was really looking forward to reading book 2. And Mask does not disappoint. Set during WWII, which happens to be the golden age of comic books, the League of Secret Heroes is part comic book, but mostly novel, and consists of Josie O'Mally (Cape), a white Irish American girl from New York City, Akiko Nakano (Mask), a Japanese American girl from San Francisco, and Mae Crumpler (Boots), an African American girl from Chicago. When the three of them meet, they discover that together their individual superpowers can be released. And it's a good thing because all their comic book superheroes like Zenobia and Hauntima are either gone or merely ghosts of their former selves and losing their powers quickly.

After defeating the Hissler in Philadelphia, a Hitler follower who was trying to get coding secrets, the three girls a/k/a the Infinity Trinity have teleported themselves to San Francisco. This used to be Akiko's home until President Roosevelt's Executive Order 9066 for the roundup of all persons of Japanese ancestry who were then transported to internment camps. This included Akiko's family, who were sent to the Manzanar, where they still are. Except for her brother who is serving in the Japanese American 422nd Infantry Regiment and her mother who is missing.

But our superheroes no sooner arrive in San Francisco, then they receive a coded message and head to San Francisco Bay, were the navy has docked several ships, to try to decipher it. Then, just as Akiko thinks she's spotted her mother walking with a suspected spy in the crowd, a parade of bagpipers go by, and she loses her. The parade is followed by a giant blimp flying overhead, navigated by Side-Splitter, and dropping bomb balloons. Suddenly, there are a lot of clowns, all dressed alike, swarming the waterfront, ready to do Side-Splitter's bidding. And Side-Splitter knows just who the Infinity Trinity is. After a battle between them on the waterfront, the girls finally head to the new League of Secret Heroes headquarters, thinking Mrs. B had been the one to leave the coded not for them.

It turns out that two crack cryptologists, Genevieve Grotjan and Elizabeth Friedman, had left the note, hoping for the Infinity Trinity's help decoding some messages they were sure was a business owner sending secret codes to the enemy. Between Akiko's missing mother, the balloon bombing Side-Splitter and his minions of devoted clowns, and now decoding a spies messages, Josie, Akiko, and Mae have a lot to work on. If only their favorite superheroes were able to help. 

Mask is every bit as exciting as Cape. Hannigan has managed to blend fantasy and reality in such a way that the adventure never stops nor does the suspense. And just as she had in Cape, she's brought in a number of historical figures (Elizabeth and Genevieve and Noor Inayat Khan, and Velvalee Dickinson) and believably blended them into the story - but never loses the comic book feeling that is so much a part of this series.

But at the same time that the Infinity Trinity, Side-Splitter, (and the Hissler from the first book) are perfect comic book characters, there is a lot of history to be found woven throughout the adventure. America's internment camps, the racism directed a Japanese Americans, the magnitude of what they lost when Executive Order 9066 went into effect, the 422nd infantry Regiment are all a part of Akiko's story. The idea for the bomb balloons may sound far fetched but they also stem from reality. How? Read the Author's Note to find out about this and other interesting facts that have been worked into the story. 

This is a second book in a series and there is always the question of whether book 2 will stand alone. I found that whenever the story referred back to the first book, there was enough background information that if you haven't read it, you wouldn't get lost. 

If you are looking for a fun work of historical fiction, Mask (and Cape) are sure to please. 

You can find some probing discussion questions and activities courtesy of the publisher Simon & Schuster HERE

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an eARC gratefully received from NetGalley

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Letters from Cuba by Ruth Behar

It's 1938 and Papa has been in Cuba for three years, working to save money to bring the rest of his family there from Poland and away from the  increasing Nazi threat to Jews. Normally, it would be the eldest son, Moshe, who would be the first child to join his father, but 11-going-on-12-year-old Esther Abraham, the eldest daughter, makes such a convincing case to Papa, that she is chosen to join him, much to her mother's consternation. 

But, on her own, Esther travels through Poland, Nazi Germany, and Holland, boards a ship to cross the Atlantic, only to learn that the first stop is Mexico, not Cuba and that she will be the only passenger when they leave port. But Esther, being a naturally friendly girl, has made friends with the animals on board, spending time with them until they reach Havana, Cuba and the next delay.

In the end, Papa is there and, before they head to the town where he lives, he has to conduct some business, introducing Esther to Zvi Mandelbaum. It turns out Papa's job in Cuba is as a itinerant peddler, not the shopkeeper his family thought he was, and he gets his wares from Mandelbaum, who immediately gives Esther a pair of sandals so she can take off her hot woolen stockings. 

From the moment Esther began her trip, she decided to write down "every interesting thing that happens" in letters for her younger sister Malka. That way when the rest of the family are finally in Cuba, they can read the letters and it will be as if they had been together the whole time. (pg 2) The result is detailed descriptions of the people Esther meets, the places she goes, and her daily life with Papa.

Esther is friendly, outgoing, and smart, picking up Spanish quickly. And she is also quite enterprising, helping her father sell the items he is given by Mandelbaum. Despite being the only Jews in the town of Matanzas, almost everyone friendly and giving, accepting her and her father. But after Esther sews herself a new dress to wear in the hot Cuban weather, she soon begins a successful trade as a dressmaker to help make money to bring her family to Cuba. 

Their lives in Cuba are basically pleasant and enjoyable, filled with new friends of diverse backgrounds, including Manuela and her Afro Cuban grandmother, and the Changs from China, as well as the local doctor and his wife, Señora Graciela. It is she who gives Esther a sewing machine that helps her begin her dressmaking business. But Cuba are not without its Nazi sympathizers, including the doctor's brother, Señor Eduardo. He wants to start a Nazi party in Cuba with an anti-immigrant agenda to get rid of the Jews there.

As the situation in Europe becomes more perilous for the Jews there, it becomes more and more imperative to get the money to bring the whole Abraham family to Cuba. 

Esther's letters to Malka are quite detailed. And though the story may not be the kind of exciting tale we are accustomed to from this period in history, it is still a wonderful window into a life we don't often read about. Small wonder it reads so authentically. Behar based this novel on her grandmother's experience of traveling to Cuba in 1927 to join her father. Like Esther, her family had lived in Govorvo, Poland. And like Esther, one beloved family member didn't make to Cuba. 

I enjoyed reading Letters from Cuba a lot. Sometimes I just don't want a lot of action and an epistolary novel like this is just the ticket for an evening of reading during COVID-19 time. Esther is a great character - a bold feminist yet respectful of her elders, especially Papa, and her religious traditions. I can't even imagine letting an 11-year-old girl travel from Poland to Cuba, part of the way in Nazi territory, all by herself. She is a character with perseverance, fortitude, and a maturity beyond her age, as well as a pretty good business woman.

Behar includes an extensive and very interesting Note from the Author about her family and how they settled in Cuba, and her research for writing this book. There is also a list of Resources for further reading.

An Educator's Guide is available to download courtesy of the publisher Nancy Paulsen Books HERE

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was an EARC gratefully received from Nancy Paulsen Books through NetGalley