Dear Miss Breed won the National Council for the Social Studies Carter G. Woodson Book Award for 2007 and was chosen for the New York Public Library's Books for the Teen Age 2007.
From the May 2006 issue of Teaching K-8 magazine
Don't miss this one.
This book is outstanding. Dear Miss Breed by Joanne Oppenheim (Scholastic
Nonfiction) is really a must-read. It tells the true stories of the young
Japanese Americans incarcerated during WWII, and a librarian who made a
difference to these children.
The horror of those days is told without drama; this is a recounting of the
ordinariness of the lives of all involved. Making it all the more poignant
are the inserts from letters of Miss Breed to "my children."
When children were to be sent to the camps, Miss Breed provided them with
stamped postcards, addressed to her, so she would know where they were and
could send books to them. She did this throughout their internment. The
letters she received in return are excerpted throughout the book. The
children were amazing; they started libraries in the camps with as few as 10
We could go on and on, but our recommendation is to read this 288-pager.
It's a great read-aloud we think you'll enjoy as much as the children will.
CCBC Recommended Books,
Cooperative Children's Book Center,
School of Education,
Univ of Wisconsin, Madison
When Japanese Americans in San Diego were being shipped off to incarceration centers during World War II, Clara Breed, the children's librarian at San Diego Public Library, went down to the train station and distributed stamped, self-addressed postcards to many of the children and teens she knew from her work. She asked them to write and tell her how they were doing, and they did. Over the course of the next two-and-a-half years, a number of them kept her informed about their lives, first at the Santa Anita racetrack, where many families were given a small space in the stables that still reeked of horse urine, and then at Poston, the “internment” camp where most of them ended up--built in the middle of the Arizona desert. She wrote them too, and although only one of those letters survives, it is clear from their correspondence to her that her many letters and cards, Christmas gifts and care packages, and books-many, many books--helped them know, just as she had intended, that they were not forgotten.
Joanne Oppenheim's extensively researched, page-turning narrative (even the endnote's are lively) minces no words when describing what happened to Japanese Americans during World War II, illuminating, for example, the government “doublespeak” that tried to thinly veil our nation's racist response to the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. And she deftly explores the complexities of the situation in which Japanese and Japanese Americans in the country found themselves, as well as their many and often conflicted feelings about it. But at the center of this deeply moving chronicle is the huge heart and critical, outspoken mind of one woman who saw a wrong and did what she could both personally and professionally to make a difference, as well as the lives of the many children and teens that she touched. Dear Miss Breed includes extensive photographs, and many of the letters and notes written to Clara Breed are part of the narrative. Interviews with many of the surviving correspondents and others who knew Miss Breed, as well as testimony from Japanese Americans who spoke on their experiences at Congressional hearings in 1981, are an integral part of this outstanding and inspiring work. (MS) ©2006 Cooperative Children's Book Center
BOOKLIST STARRED REVIEW
JANUARY 1, 2006
*STAR* Oppenheim, Joanne. Dear Miss Breed: True Stories of the Japanese American Incarceration during World War II and a Librarian Who Made a Difference. Feb. 2006. 288p. illus. index. Scholastic Nonfiction, $22.99 (0-439-56992-3). 940.53.
Gr. 7-10. Like Michael O. Tunnell's The Children of Topaz (1996), this passionately written history bears witness to the World War II injustices endured by Japanese Americans, from a vantage point of particular relevance to young people. In a poignant introduction, seasoned children's writer Oppenheim explains how her hunt for a former classmate, a Japanese American, serendipitously led her to an Internet profile of San Diego children's librarian Clara Breed, and to a collection of letters written to Breed by her incarcerated Japanese patrons-grateful, illuminating responses to Breed's faithful missives and care packages containing books and other gifts. Although the letters (and interviews with their grown-up authors) form the narrative's bedrock, Oppenheim weaves them into a broader account amplified by photos, archival materials (including a startlingly racist cartoon by Dr. Seuss), and moving quotations from the later reparation hearings: "I was just 10 years old when I became a 'squint-eyed yellow-bellied Jap.'" Along with the basic facts, Oppenheim urges readers to critically interpret primary sources and identify "governmental doublespeak"; the words "incarceration" or "concentration" are consciously employed here as correctives for softpedaling terminology like "internment" and "relocation." Unclear references in the children's letters are not always annotated, and the recurring discussion of professional concerns facing Breed (whose own letters to the camps have been lost) often seems to cater too obviously to Oppenheim's adult readers. But the aggregate deserves commendation for its sheer quantity of accessible, exhaustively researched information about a troubling period, more resonant now than ever, when American ideals were compromised by fear and unfortunate racial assumptions. Eight pages of unusually readable, wide-ranging endnotes and an exhaustive bibliography conclude, evidence of Oppenheim's all-consuming research process. -Jennifer Mattson
Hard to imagine it being better written) . 3P . M . J .S
Oppenheim, Joanne. Dear Miss Breed: True Stories of the Japanese American Incarceration During World War II and a Librarian Who Made a Difference, Scholastic.2006.288p. $22.99. 0-439-56992-3.. Index. Illus. Photos. Maps. Biblio. Notes. Appendix.
In his last year, this reviewer's father, a Pearl Harbor vet, spent time in a daycare program for dementia victims. Routinely he would return home to recount stories of a fellow daycare resident, a Japanese American woman who had spent time at Manzanar. Her memories are unforgettable, much like the letters and interviews in veteran author Oppenheim's nonfiction recounting relationships between a special librarian and her incarcerated young readers. Clara E. Breed, children's librarian for the San Diego Public Library, celebrated all young readers, and her commitment did not end when Japanese families in the area were torn from their homes and lives following December 7,1941. Oppenheim collects scores of communications back and forth between Breed and her readers, making inferences, interpreting contexts insightfully. Notes reveal gifts that Breed sent students, along with shopping lists they sent her with money orders. Anger, bitterness, and sadness fill correspondence from older students, aware of injustices forced upon them. Younger readers adapted more readily to condition at various camps. The volume includes historical sidebars, photographs of letter writers (as children and adults), and rare internment camp pictures.
Although some nonfiction written for students is superficial, assuming research versus evidencing it, this book is thoroughly, clearly documented, including chapter notes, acknowledgements, and bibliography. Additional highlights include follow-ups on the children and a reunion gathering. Fortunate social studies students will find themselves immersed in this engaging and poignant personal history, demonstrating that a single person can, indeed make a significant difference in the lives of many. Memorable? Absolutely.- Parri Sylvester Spencer.
Horn Book Review - March/Arpril 2006
The book is lengthy...but compelling, as well as eerily timely in light of current debates about civil rights. The story of this long, ugly episode has not before been so fully told for young people and deserves wide reading and discussion.
WHAT THEY ARE SAYING ABOUT
DEAR MISS BREED:
"Joanne Oppenheim's Dear Miss Breed is the moving story of the San Diego librarian who stuck by "her children" as theylived through the terrible history of the incarceration of Japanese Americans. Because she tells the story mainly through the actual words in letters from "her children" in camp, it brings to life--more than almost anything else I've seen in print--that experience, so long lost in the bin of bitter memories or layered between or beneath the bittersweet recollections of growing up, even in the desolate desert camp to which they were banished."
Setsuko Matsunaga Nishi, Ph.D., Principal Investigator, Japanese American Life Course Project, Professor Emerita of Sociology, Brooklyn College & The Graduate Center of The City University of New York
"Dear Miss Breed tells the story of a tragic event in modern American history, the wartime incarceration of Japanese Americans, through the eyes and words of the children who were its most notable victims. A bittersweet valentine to the power of the democratic spirit, it celebrates both the courage of the young Americans who struggled to build a normal life amid the unjust imprisonment and harsh conditions of the camps, and that of the unassuming San Diego librarian who was their champion. Dear Miss Breed not only adds to the long tradition of children's literature on the Japanese American incarceration, but provides new material for historians."
Greg Robinson, Associate Professor of History, University of Quebec at Montreal, author of By the Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans (Harvard University Press, 2001)
Although most other Californians applauded the decision to exile Japanese Americans in 1942, a few were appalled, and a very few did something about it. In a sensitive and fascinating new book, Joanne Oppenheim tells the story of Clara Breed, a San Diego librarian who went to the train station from which Japanese San Diegans were sent to the concentration camp at the Santa Anita racetrack and handed out postcards asking children to write her from camp and she would send them books. This unique event has previously been described but Oppenheim has turned it into a wonderful book which gives a gripping account of what the evacuated people went through. She also tells Clara Breed's life story, prints many of the letters sent to her, and has tracked down and interviewed many of Miss Breed's surviving correspondents, and gets their side of Miss Breed's story. In one of Breed's 1942 letters she wrote that "I have moments of being afraid of America." For those of us who have similar moments today, this book will be both a kind of comfort and a challenge."
Roger Daniels, Charles Phelps Taft Professor Emeritus of History, University of Cincinnati, author of Prisoners Without Trial: Japanese Americans in World War II (Hill and Wang, 1993)
"Dear Miss Breed is the product of a remarkable collaboration between two exceedingly creative and compassionate women who never met yet lived out their shared conviction that good books possess the power to sharpen young people's sensitivity and promote social justice. Children's librarian Clara Breed forged a special bond with her youthful San Diego, California, Japanese American patrons in the years before Pearl Harbor, which she then strengthened during their ethnic community's unwarranted detention in World War II federal prison camps via a steady stream of heartening letters and judiciously chosen books. Now, over a half-century later, acclaimed children's books' author Joanne Oppenheim has drawn information and inspiration from Clara Breed's preserved cache of palpable reply letters sent by her young correspondents to craft an amazing book that illuminates a bleak chapter in American history and dramatizes the vital if unheralded role played by librarians in safeguarding not merely our books, but also our civil and human rights."
Arthur Hansen, Professor Emeritus of History and Asian American Studies, California State University, Fullerton, editor of Japanese American World War II Evacuation Oral History Project (K. G. Saur, 1992-95).
As tens of thousands of Japanese Americans were shipped off to incarceration in World War II, Clara Breed, a librarian in San Diego, understood the simple power of a book to fight oppression. She spent the war years sending books to Japanese American children behind barbed wire. With "Dear Miss Breed," the book you hold in your hands, Joanne Oppenheim carries on in that noble tradition. The book vividly and movingly documents the entire sorry episode we call the Japanese American internment, bringing the reader up close to the real human lives that were affected by it, particularly the lives of children and teenagers. Its tone and level of sophistication make it appropriate for a broad range of readers, from middle-schoolers to high-schoolers and even adults. The book joins "Farewell to Manzanar" and "Baseball Saved Us" among the essential works on the Japanese American internment for young audiences.
Eric L. Muller, George R. Ward Professor
University of North Carolina School of Law, Chapel Hill, NC,
Author of Free to Die for Their Country, ( University of Chicago)
"What a wonderful gift Joanne Oppenheim has given us with this book, a story that honors librarians and humanizes a shameful time in our country's history. Through gripping first-hand accounts and dogged archival research, Oppenheim tells the extraordinary story of librarian Miss Clara Breed and the difference she made to Japanese-American children and their families who were stripped of their rights as American citizens, forced from their homes, and housed in substandard internment camps in the aftermath of the Pearl Harbor bombing. Thank you, Joanne Oppenheim! Long live librarians like Miss Clara Breed!"
Susan Campbell Bartoletti, award-winning author of Growing Up in Coal Country, Black Potatoes: The Story of the Great Irish Famine, and Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler's Shadow.