8 Books that Highlight Japanese American Stories during World War II

by Staci, Donut Lovin' Teacher

It is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM) and we should all be checking our curriculum to see where and how API (Asian Pacific Islander) voices and stories are being centered in our classes. There are more and more API books for secondary students that are coming to the forefront as well as API authors. You’ve likely heard it before, but the API community is not a monolith--there is diversity within and among each culture.  

Take the Japanese American community for example, there are a multitude of experiences, histories, and perspectives to be looked at--past and present. Our teaching should reflect that.

Although Farewell to Manzanar contributes valuable lessons and context to the Japanese American experience during World War II, it is not the only text that students should have to learn about this time.  Let’s take a moment to check out some other books that share the experiences of Japanese and Japanese Americans during World War II. Whether you incorporate them through book clubs, add it as a novel study, or give these books space on a shelf in your classroom library, remember to provide multiple perspectives for your students to learn from. 

Here are 8 books (at varying reading levels), that your students will love. 

  1. We Are Not Free by Traci Chee: Follow the story of 14 teens from the same community that are forced into incarceration camps after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and Executive Order 9066. Each chapter is told from a different character’s perspective while the story continues to advance through the war. It serves as a strong reminder of just how many ways individuals experience one event.

  2. Displacement by Kiku Hughes: Ever wish you could go back in time and see a family member in the past? Kiku finds herself among other internees who were forcibly relocated, including her late grandmother. This is a graphic novel you’ll definitely want to have in your classroom!

  1. They Called Us Enemy by George Takei: This graphic novel tells the story of George Takei’s family and his journey towards understanding what it means to be American when your own country sees you as the enemy. If learning about Japanese American history as a class, any of these novels also can be paired with George Takei’s Ted Talk.

  1. Four Four Two by Dean Hughes: Main character Yuki enlists in the army though he and his family are behind barbed wires in an internment camp in Utah. Follow the story of a soldier in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the segregated all Japanese American unit that are often described as fighting two wars: one against Germans in Europe and one against racial injustice in the U.S.

  1. Dust of Eden by Mariko Nagai: Written in free verse, this story offers the perspective of a teen girl from Seattle before and after the attack on Pearl Harbor. It also offers a glimpse into the lesser discussed assembly centers that many were hastily forced to move to prior to one of the 10 internment centers.

  1. Paper Wishes by Lois Sepahban: Whenever looking back at the past, students begin to ask a lot of ‘What if’ questions. What if you had a pet? What if you brought something you weren’t supposed to? Both are questions that can be discussed when ten year old Manami isn’t willing to say goodbye to her grandfather’s dog, Yujiin.

  1. Sylvia and Aki by Winifred Conkling: The Japanese American experiences did not happen in isolation. This book tells the story of Sylvia Mendez and her family’s legal battle towards desegregating schools while living in the home of a family interned in Poston, AZ. Read as the two young protagonists build a bond during uncertain times. (Sylvia and Aki Teaching Resources)

  1. Fred Korematsu Speaks Up: Another ‘What if’ question that comes up when looking back at this time period: What if you didn’t go? Focusing on the resistance of the incarceration camps is important in showing that every voice makes a difference. This informational book focuses on the true story of Fred Korematsu and the timeline of events surrounding his resistance.

This Japanese American Book Recommendations List might also help you find some picture books that can support student learning, if you’re working on a specific unit.

Lastly, as students learn about injustices of the past, it is important to make connections to more recent injustices and ways to take actions. Tsuru for Solidarity is an organization that is working to end inhumane immigration policies such as detention sites and calls for our country to ‘stop repeating history.’

Additional Japanese American History Resources:

Fred Korematsu Institute

Learning for Justice Article 

Facing History Educator Resources

JANM Education Resources - Scroll down to the Web Resources

Densho’s Examining Racism and Discrimination Through Oral History

Densho’s Campu Podcast -Make sure to check out the resources available in the transcripts

Find Staci on: Instagram, TpT, or her Website

Back to Top