In dreamlike sequences, a man symbolically confronts the trauma of his family’s incarceration in the Japanese internment camps during World War II. This infamous event is made emotionally clear through his meeting a group of children all with strange name tags pinned to their coats. The man feels the helplessness of the children. Finally, desperately he releases the name tags like birds into the air to find their way home with the hope for a time when Americans will be seen as one peoplenot judged, mistrusted, or segregated because of their individual heritage.
Sixty years after thousands of Japanese Americans were unjustly imprisoned, the cogent prose and haunting paintings of renowned author and illustrator Allen Say remind readers of a dark chapter in America’s history.
Breaking from such previous works as Tea with Milk and Grandfather's Journey, which featured a realistic sequence of events, Caldecott Medalist Say here enters the realm of dream or rather, nightmare. The opening image shows a man dwarfed by an ominous, craggy stone edifice at the edge of a shore, as he prepares to step into his kayak. In the next spread, the man, wearing a red helmet and vest that match his vessel, hurls over a waterfall; the sky resembles billowing black smoke that blends with the rocky cliffs ("The man closed his eyes and held his breath"). Say's use of light and dark has a haunting effect, as the man first surfaces in an underground tunnel with a faint glimmer of sunlight; the light then shifts from horizontal to vertical as it illuminates a ladder. Barren land awaits above, with a single structure: "Must be an Indian reservation, he thought." Two children sit against an adobe ruin with nametags around their necks, explaining they are "from the camp." Details in the meticulously rendered watercolors reveal that the children are referring to an internment camp: a row of abandoned identical wooden houses sit on the desert floor of a valley (and hark back to the deserted Indian reservation); thousands of children with identical tags chant "Take us home!"; searchlights from high watchtowers follow them as they flee. Other details link the hero's fate with theirs, but the final image is uplifting. Much remains enigmatic: most children will require the aid of an older reader to make sense of the historical context, and may be put off by the dark and lonely vistas. However, the images create an internal logic of their own, as emotionally convincing as any waking experience. All ages. (Apr.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.