When I first heard Maggie Tokuda-Hall talk about her book based on her grandparents, I knew I had to have it for my own library. It’s a true story about how love can miraculously be found under the most trying of circumstances. Take note of the armed guard in the tower outside the window of the library on the cover.
On the inside, the endpapers show a barbed wire fence reaching up into a dusty, pale sky in a stark desert, followed by the title page with a crumpled paper stamped with the words “Instructions to all persons of JAPANESE…” and a tagged bag. When first reading this book to children, it would be good to ask them what they think these pictures may mean. Then after reading the book, go back and discuss how the cover and pages that precede the story set the stage for the reader.
On the first spread, the barbed wire fence now contains a human element, this time in context.
Tama did not like the desert.
She brushed the dust from her eyes as she walked to the library. The barbed wire fences and guard towers cast long shadows over her path.
She always did her best not to look at the guards.
The illustration helps the reader feel the heat of the sun, the hot desert wind, the harshness of the environment, all overseen by a guard with gun. The thought that Tama won’t look at the guards speaks volumes about her reality.
During WWII, Tama and a young man named George meet each other in Minidoka incarceration camp in Idaho. Like many in the camps, Tama takes on a job she has not been trained to do, just because someone needs to do it. She likes books, so she works in the library. Every day, George comes by to check out books, when he’s really there to talk to Tama. Their love blooms across the backdrop of human beings who’ve been tagged like luggage and put on trains to the camp, entire families who live in single rooms, and bathrooms that are nothing more than latrines.
Tama doesn’t know how long she will be there or if she will ever leave, but she does her best “not to think about the life she used to have.”
This new life is a “constant” one. “Constant questions. Constant worries. Constant fear.”
But there is George and the “constant company” of books, the life of the mind. Tokuda-Hall shows how tenderly Tama and George treat each other, fall in love, marry, and start a family before they are ever released—a testament to the miracle of love and hope.
Back matter explains that while the story is true, most of the dialogue has been imagined, except for one key statement taken from Tama’s journal: “The miracle is in all of us.”
A beautiful story appropriate for elementary school age children to start a conversation about how governments, their leaders, and the people of a country can pass and/or allow unjust laws that treat other human beings as less than human. My son studied WWII and Japanese incarceration in 4th grade. Talking in person with a camp survivor made a lasting impression on him. I would hope that this book could be used in classrooms and living rooms across the U.S. to educate kids and their families about an unjust chapter in U.S. history that should never have happened and should never be repeated. Back matter provides additional context for the story.
The gouache and watercolor Illustrations by Yas Imamura perfectly match the tone of Tama’s quiet desperation, resignation, and hope via a muted palette while presenting this harsh setting in contrast to the tender love story. A lovely and important book.
Watch a short HiHo Kids Youtube video of students talking with someone who lived in a Japanese incarceration camp.
Watch a TeenKidsNews video that provides more background about the camps.
Watch this video about the history of the origami crane.
Fold 1,000 origami cranes and give them to others or string them up at your school as a symbol of hope for world peace.
Title: Love in the Library
Author: Maggie Tokuda-Hall
Illustrator: Yas Imamura
Publisher: Candlewick, 2022
Themes: WWII, Japanese incarceration, U.S. history, love
Ages: Elementary school+
For more perfect picture book recommendations, please visit Susanna Hill’s website.