“If you have the feeling that something is wrong, don’t be afraid to speak up.”
— Fred Korematsu
It’s traumatizing to be arrested and thrown in jail. Maybe even more so when it’s simply because of your skin color, religious affiliation, or gender identity. The memories remain painful. It takes courage to speak up.
Fred Korematsu Speaks Up, written by Laura Atkins and Stan Yogi, and illustrated by Yutaka Houlette, tells the story of the unsung American hero who stood up to the government when an executive order was issued to send all Japanese Americans above fourteen to internment camps. He fought not just for his sake, but for civil liberties and for the Constitution of the United States, and the government later thanked him for it.
Fred Koretmatsu Speaks Up isn’t a typical history or biography book. Chapter after chapter, the book not just gives facts, but also turns the table on the reader, asking questions such as, “Why do you think discrimination happens?”
What I liked about this book and why I recommend it:
1) Fred Korematsu Speaks Up has a surprising universal appeal. Indeed, Mr. Korematsu’s experience is not just told in relatable ways through his daily activities–at home, in school, looking for a job, but it also relates to current events, and it relates to communities beyond the Asian American ones.
2) His story can help children and adults alike, of any background, understand what it is like to grow up being an immigrant or a child of immigrants in the USA. We’re given a glimpse into his family dynamic, as well as into the reality that an immigrant’s identity isn’t as clear cut as stereotypes make it be. To the reader who is an immigrant, this is an empowering story. To the one who is not, this is the bridge to help him understand what it took for his neighbor, classmate or friend to enjoy the same freedom today.
3) In the light of what is going on in the world, this book introduces the young reader to the legal and political vocabulary, and is useful in presenting and understanding historical American values, the government role, and activism (ACLU has a central role).
4) The book’s interactive structure as a teaching tool: short chapters telling a slice of Mr. Korematsu’s story, followed by pages filled with historical facts and documents, a glossary, and a timeline…
5) The clean, sobering and soothing illustrations by Yutaka Houlette.
January 30 is Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution, and also his birthday. Several news outlets (NPR, CNN, The Smithsonian Mag, just to quote a few) celebrated him via their articles. Google contribute with a unique doodle.
I humbly urge every librarian, teacher, and parent to read it, and to do so with a child. If you’re reading this review, please pick up the book and spread the word about it.
“Am I an American or not?
Further steps to take:
o You can purchase the book at the EastWind Books.
o Help Fred Korematsu Speaks Up‘s book drive, and nominate or give the book to a library.
o Connect with the Fred Korematsu Institute to support his legacy, and spread the knowledge about civil liberties and the Constitution. Educators receive a free teaching kit, shipped worldwide, free of charge.
o Join the book’s group on Facebook, to discover school or library resources, discuss the book or ask questions to Laura Atkins, one of the book’s creators. You will also have access to the dates of upcoming book events or school visits.
o If you tweet about the book or otherwise discuss it online, it would help if you use the hashtag #FightingForJustice.
Recommended age range: 8-14.
Publisher: HeyDay Books
Release date: January 30, 2017.
Updated on January 31, 2107, to correct spelling error on “Korematsu.”