Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Barbed Wire Baseball, Marissa Moss

Title:  Barbed Wire Baseball
Author: Marissa Moss
Publisher:  Harry N. Abrams
Year:  2013
Pages:  48
Genre:  Non-Fiction, Historical
Themes:  World War II, Japanese Internment, Sports, Perseverance
Age Range: 2nd-6th Grade

Summary:  from Goodreads
As a boy, Kenichi “Zeni” Zenimura dreams of playing professional baseball, but everyone tells him he is too small. Yet he grows up to be a successful player, playing with Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig! When the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor in 1941, Zeni and his family are sent to one of ten internment camps where more than 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry are imprisoned without trials. Zeni brings the game of baseball to the camp, along with a sense of hope.

There are quite a few children's and young adult books out there that describe the experience of Japanese Americans sent to internment camps during World War II.  Books like The Bracelet and  Farewell to Manzanar have become staples of English classes in schools that strive to teach the complete truth about America in regards to its treatment of immigrants generally, and the Japanese Americans specifically.  There is even another book about baseball and the internment camps, called Baseball Saved Us.  Moss' contribution, Barbed Wire Baseball, tells the true story of a famous Japanese American baseball player named Zenichi Zenimura, sent to internment camps in the desert along with tens of thousands of other Japanese.  The story begins when Zeni was a small boy who became determined to become a great baseball player.  Unlike many young boys with the same dream, Zeni actually had the talent to make it a possibility, and the perseverance to make it happen.

Rather than focusing on the day to day life in the camp,  Barbed Wire Baseball details the extraordinary optimism, hard work, and ingenuity displayed by Zeni and the other prisoners at his camp.  Determined to play baseball, no matter the challenges, Zeni has a vision, a dream of a "real" baseball field in the middle of the stony desert.  He plants grass, chalks lines, steals wood to make bleachers for fans, and takes up a collection to buy equipment and uniforms for the players.  Zeni's quest proves the strength of the human spirit when faced with adversity, while highlighting the inherent injustices in this painful period of American history.

The illustrations pair beautifully with the story, done in a quasi-traditional Japanese style, but with American images included.  This picture book would make a good read aloud as a stand alone title, but would be a marvelous addition to a unit about World War II.

Teacher Resources:
Abrams Discussion Guide
Marissa Moss' Website

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