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[Nonfiction Wednesday] Reinventing The Role Of A Librarian During Times Of War

"Write To Me: Letters From Japanese American Children To The Librarian They Left Behind" by Cynthia Grady and Illustrated by Amiko Hirao.

Myra here.

We are delighted to join the Nonfiction Picture Book meme 2019 hosted by Alyson Beecher @ Kid Lit Frenzy. We would also be linking our nonfiction choices with our reading themes throughout the year, when we can.


Write To Me: Letters From Japanese American Children To The Librarian They Left Behind

Written by Cynthia Grady Illustrated by Amiko Hirao
Published by Charlesbridge Publishing (2018)
ISBN: 158089688X (ISBN13: 9781580896887)
Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

Buy Write To Me: Letters From Japanese American Children To The Librarian They Left Behind on Amazon | Book Depository

Most people have a very limited view of the role played by librarians in society. For most, it is the stern, forbidding (usually) woman who shushes library patrons who are chatting or laughing while within library premises. For others, a librarian can be a saving grace, a salvation from difficult life circumstances (see Tomas and the Library Lady and my review hereThat Book Woman and my review here, and Planting Stories with Fats’ review here – among many other titles about librarians we have featured over the years).

Miss Clara Estelle Breed clearly belongs to the latter category. This is felt even more keenly when Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed an Executive Order in 1942, effectively authorizing government officials to round up Americans of Japanese ancestry and relocate them in prison camps for fear that they may be spies in the ongoing Japanese – American war. The Author’s Note indicates that approximately 120,000 Japanese Americans lost their home and livelihood; more than half of these numbers were children.

The horrific experiences of the children were revealed through the short letters they sent to Miss Breed, the librarian who provided them addressed penny postcards in her desire to remain in contact with her library patrons, particularly the young children. For more detailed information about what went on in the concentration camps, do check out Allen Say’s Home Of The Brave (which I reviewed here), and Music for Alice by Allen Say (my review here) and So Far From The Sea by Eve Bunting and Chris Soentpiet (my review here).

The lovely thing about Miss Breed is that she not only responded to these postcards, she sent the children boxes of books, visited their concentration camps, and also sent other things such as art materials, seeds for planting, and other basic necessities which she felt would be of use to them after reading their heartfelt postcards.

This is also a picturebook biography where the endpapers are part of the overall narrative, providing the much needed historical context from which the moving story is based. Clearly, Miss Breed has redefined the role of a librarian; although, others may argue that this is precisely the role that librarians actually play – someone who nourishes one’s soul through books that provide a form of escape and redemption. A beautiful story about a remarkable and unforgettable woman – do find it!


#WomenReadWomen2019: Cynthia Grady and Amiko Hirao are both from the United States of America.

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Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

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