Racial discrimination is always an ugly event. To
judge and, many times, condemn people for their physical characteristics is
to harm Christ Himself. Unfortunately, most countries have practiced some
form of racial discrimination in their history.
While slavery was the most long lasting example in
the United States, the treatment of Japanese-Americans during World War II
was also terrible. Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the
Roosevelt administration ordered all Japanese-Americans to be interned at 10
camps in six western states. About 120,000 people were exiled to these
internment camps, and they were not released until the end of World War II.
The highly acclaimed Japanese-American
writer/illustrator Allen Say tells their painful story in this subtle,
metaphorical book, "Home of the Brave."
The story begins with a man kayaking down a
stream. The waves of the river turn more violent and he is carried over a
waterfall and plunges beneath the surface of the earth in an underground
river. He loses his helmet, life jacket, kayak and paddle. Stunned, he is
carried away by the water and thinks he is drowning. But at last he sees a
light and crawls out of the water. Sun is streaming through an opening in
the ground and the exhausted man climbs up a ladder to the surface.
No sooner does he leave the underworld than he
sees two children. Thinking he is in an abandoned Indian village, he sees
two children huddled next to an adobe wall. To his surprise, they are both
Japanese-American and are stranded in a desert. He, also Japanese-American,
inquires what they are doing in this desolate land. The children answer that
they are waiting to go home. He sees that both children have tags around
their necks, but he can’t make out the meaning. When he asks the girl where
the children came from, she simply replies "From the camp."
Taking the children’s hands, he walks with them
through a blinding sandstorm to the camp. When he gets there he sees many
abandoned houses. Opening up one door he finds an old identification tag. On
the tag, to his horror, is his own name. Now the man realizes that, like the
children, he too feels the need to go home. He is so tired he lays down and
upon waking, develops a plan to get home.
What is the plan the man develops? How does
courage and forgiveness form the basis of this plan? What does the title
"Home of the Brave" really mean? How can an ethnic group overcome a profound
evil? To find out go to the library and check out this fine title.
Allen Say is a renowned writer/illustrator in
children’s literature. This is a powerful, haunting account of a tragic
event in American history, yet concludes with a statement of hope. I think
this book would be excellent in a social studies class discussing racial
discrimination, but will need teacher assistance as some ideas in the text
are complex. For the ideas that are not readily apparent, teachers can
provide assistance through directed reading and discussion.
Though this book is sometimes painful to read, it
teaches valuable lessons on the need to reject bigotry and violence. Say’s
hope filled response to the Japanese-American incarceration is edifying. I
hope you get the chance to read this compelling book.