Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Historical fiction: Weedflower by Cynthia Kadohata

Kadohata, Cynthia. WEEDFLOWER. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2006. ISBN 0689865740.

Sumiko is a 12 year old orphan who lives with her younger brother on her aunt and uncle's flower farm in California in 1941. Feeling different from her classmates because she is the only Japanese girl in her class, she consoles herself with dreams of owning her own flower shop someday. But then comes December 6th, and the events of Pearl harbor. Overnight, Sumiko's whole life changes again. Her grandfather and uncle are sent away to a prison camp for the crime of being born in Japan. Sumiko, her brother, cousins, and aunt are shipped to the internment camp in Poston, Arizona. There, her younger brother runs wild because there's no school. Sumiko starts growing a flower garden with her neighbor, Mr. Moto. She meets a boy, Frank, from the nearby Indian reservation and the two of them become friends, even though the Indians resent the Japanese, who don't want to be there in the first place. Sumiko's cousins joij the US military, to fight for a country that ostensibly doesn't even want them because of their ethnicity. Sumilo struggle sto make sense of all these conflicting occurences, scrapes away at the dirt of her flower garden and survives.

In an author's endnote, Ms. Kadohata tells us about how the internment camps actually improved life for the Indians, since they inherited the facilities once the Japanese internees began returning to return to their homes.

Awards and Honors:
  • Cybils, 2006 Finalist Middle Grade Fiction United States

  • Jane Addams Children's Book Award, 2007 Winner Books for Older Children United States

Kirkus (Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 2006 (Vol. 74, No. 6))
Post-Pearl Harbor Japanese-American internment is seen from the eyes of a young girl who eventually manages to bloom after she is uprooted and planted in the Arizona desert. Twelve-year-old Sumiko and her little brother Tak-Tak live with their aunt and uncle on a flower farm in California. The only Japanese student in her class, Sumiko longs for friends and acceptance. She loves the fields of "weedflowers" and dreams of owning her own flower shop. After Pearl Harbor, Sumiko and her family are removed from their land and transported to an internment camp on an Indian reservation in Poston, Ariz. Surrounded by fields of dust, Sumiko's "dream was gone and she didn't know what would take its place," until she teams up with her neighbor Mr. Moto to make the desert bloom and escape the "ultimate boredom" of the camp. And when Sumiko meets Frank, a Mohave boy who resents the Japanese on his land, she finds an unlikely, but true friend. Like weedflowers, hope survives in this quietly powerful story.

Claudia Mills, Ph.D. (Children's Literature)
Newbery Medalist Kadohata (Kira-Kira) presents another story of a Japanese-American family: Sumiko’s family are flower farmers in California; too poor to afford a glass greenhouse, they grow kusabana, or weedflowers, flowers grown in the open field, hardy enough to bear changing weather conditions. Sumiko and her family are forced to find a way to survive and flourish during the intolerably harsh conditions of relocation and internment of Japanese-Americans following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Although this painful and shameful chapter of American history is now familiar to many readers, Kadohata excels in accumulating the heart-piercing details that make it all too vividly real: Sumiko’s excitement about finally being invited to a classmate’s birthday party, from which she is subsequently uninvited because of her race; farewells to a beloved horse and dog; the crushing heat, dust, and boredom of life in the camps, where Sumiko tries to grow flowers again in the barren, sandy soil. Sumiko’s emerging friendship with a Native American boy, resentful of the relocation camp’s presence on his reservation, adds another dimension to the internment narrative, which builds to an unsettled, but somehow still hopeful, conclusion.

This book lends itself well to Readers Theatre. Some recommended chapters to start with are Chapter 4 where Sumiko gets turned away from her classmate's birthday party, Chapter 10 where Sumiko and her family leave for the internment camp, or Chapter 28 where Sumiko and her cousin meet with Frank and his older brother and find out that the Japanese and Indians have a lot in common.

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