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 BOOK REVIEWS


"To the men and women of Asian and Pacific Islander descent who served in the U.S. armed forces and defended America with little or no recognition.

— Dedication of Heroes, by author Ken Mochizuki

From The Asian Reporter, V13, #14 (April 1-7, 2003), page 13.

You kids should be playing something besides war

Heroes

Written by Ken Mochizuki

Illustrated by Dom Lee

Lee & Low Books, 1995

Paperback $6.95, Hardback $15.95, 30 pages

15 illustrations (full-page images scratched on beeswax layer, oil paint for color)

Recommended for children age 4 and over

By Polo

Heroes is another homerun by Seattle writer Ken Mochizuki and New Jersey artist Dom Lee. The book is the middle of their three collaborations (including the earlier Baseball Saved Us, and their later Passage to Freedom: The Sugihara Story). Heroes is Messrs. Mochizuki and Lee’s homage to a Japanese-American generation’s war-time gallantry and extraordinary contribution to American democracy. The book presents an important children’s story in the same way, and for all the same reasons as Baseball Saved Us and Passage to Freedom. Briefly, those reasons and those children’s lessons are as follows:

The back story

In December 1941, Imperial Japan attacked U.S. military bases in the American Pacific Territory of Hawai’i. Days after, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared war on Emperor Hirohito and ordered West Coast Japanese Americans out of their homes, their schools, their jobs and businesses. Families were transported under U.S. Army guard to desolate prison camps, where they were interned for the duration of the Second World War on an awful assumption of mass disloyalty and potential sabotage. In the face of this, according to the author, about "50,000 Americans of Asian and Pacific Islander descent served in the armed forces of the United States. Among the most notable was the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, an all-Japanese American regiment that … became one of the most highly decorated units in United States Army history."

In August of 1945, The Emperor surrendered. Families were railroaded or bussed back, war veterans returned home, without a word (including a string of U.S. Supreme Court denials) until President Ronald Reagan finally acknowledged our nation’s wrong, and formally apologized, four decades later.

This story

Author Ken Mochizuki tells a terrific children’s story, artist Dom Lee illustrates a timelessly important one. Their tale is a modern one — tender and tough and most of all: true. Pink princesses, studs on steeds, and foul-breath dragons, are out. Modest but succinct heroism, quiet confidence in democracy and cultural integrity are better. As in Messrs. Mochizuki and Lee’s earlier work, these qualities, so essential not only to Japanese America, are portrayed with sincerity and certainty. No one shouts, no one’s shot, not a single spectacular car-chase scene.

Heroes is told through the eyes and voice of an apparently regular eight- to 10-year-old boy. He wears a goldenrod polo and white sneakers. His name is Donnie. He calls his father Dad. He has a circle of best buds who want to play war, while he wishes they could play football. "Get moving, Donnie," his friend Zach tells him after the gang decides it’s war play, again. "You’re the bad guy, and we’re going to hunt you down." Donnie protests "No I’m not. My Dad was in our Army and he fought in Italy and France. And my Uncle Yosh was in Korea." Zach says no way. "How could your dad or uncle be in our army?" Tori asks. Ouch.

Donnie finally asks his father "How come we’re always the bad guys?" He also asks for a token, something he can take to his friends to prove his loyalty, his goodness. "You kids should be playing something besides war," his father says. When our boy asks Uncle Yosh about Korea, his Uncle quietly replies "Real heroes don’t brag."

The story’s tension is ultimately resolved, Donnie’s friends get set (wowed) straight, and, most importantly, Donnie’s confidence and dignity are righted.

Heroes is just what Mr. Mochizuki and Mr. Lee promise in their title. It is executed with the same simple courage and uncommon grace shared by both storyteller’s and hero’s ancestral bones. This is an essential American story, tough and tender and true — everything children need from a story. Our stories.

Heroes is a winner of an International Reading Association, Teacher’s Choices Award; a Smithsonian Institute Notable Books for Children citation; a San Francisco Chronicle "Editor’s Choice," among other honors. The publisher, Lee & Low Books, makes available a free online teacher’s guide at <www.leeandlow.com/teachers>.

On Saturday, April 12, author Mochizuki will read from his children’s books about everyday heroes, including Baseball Saved Us, Passage to Freedom, and Heroes. The reading will take place at 1:30pm at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) on the Fourth Floor. SAM is located at 100 University Street in Seattle. The event is free with admission to SAM. For information, call (206) 654-3100 or visit <www.seattleartmuseum.org>.

 

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