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Baseball saved us

by Ken Mochizuki
1993 / 32 pages

This is the story of a chapter of World War II that I didn’t know anything about until quite recently: the internment of the coastal Japanese-Canadian and American-Canadian populations. In both countries, citizens with a Japanese heritage were shipped away to internment camps until War’s end, and their homes and businesses and most of their goods were sold or otherwise taken from them. All in the name of safety and security. And as this picture book shares in an author’s note before its opening page, none of these immigrants “were ever proven to be dangerous to American during World War II.”

Based on author Ken Mochizuki’s experiences, this tells the story of a Japanese-American family already in an internment camp. The young narrator tells us how it was his dad who came up with the idea for building a baseball field. No one had anything to do but sit around, and it was fostering disrespect among the youth and tension among the adults. So they got busy and built a field complete with stands, and an irrigated outfield, to get the grass growing.

“Bats, balls, and gloves arrived in cloth sacks from friends back home. My mom and other moms took the covers off mattresses and used them to make uniforms. They looked almost like the real thing.”

The games gave the prisoners something to do, and look forward to. Our narrator gradually learns how to play, and hits the winning run in the championship game.

But that’s not where the book ends. The story continues with what happens after the war. These Japanese-Americans were now free, but they weren’t welcomed home. The boy has to sit by himself at lunch at school. But here too, baseball helps. “By the time the first game came around, I felt almost a part of the team.”

But when the game begins, he realizes “Nobody on my team or the other team, or even anybody in the crowd look like me.” Someone from the crowd shouts “Jap” when he drops a ball. Things are still far from improved out here, far from the camp. But, when he gets up to bat, he’s able to put that all aside. It’s just him and the pitcher.


The only caution would be regarding age-appropriateness. The internment of the Japanese is presented very matter of fact, which minimizes some of the horror of it. That’s appropriate for the picture-book age group – Grade One kids don’t need to have a full grasp on how a big government can perpetuate big injustices when a willing populace doesn’t object. But to get it in part is important. So, this is a picture book that should be read, but probably with an adult alongside, to help a kid understand it, and emotionally deal with it.


A Christian who reads the title “Baseball saves us” should be a little disturbed – it seems to be propping up baseball as an idol. But this story is more about contrasting the justice on the baseball diamond with the injustice going on around. On the sports field, it’s just whether you can play, and nothing else.

While it is an older book, because it was reprinted again on its 25th anniversary, it’s available at most libraries, and both new and used copies easily found with just a bit of hunting. And it’s worth hunting for – this is a largely unknown chapter in our history, so it’s not just an engaging read, but an important one.

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Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Stealing Home

by J. Torres and David Namisato 2021 / 112 pages During World War II, after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Canada rounded up Japanese Canadians living on the coast and shipped them away to abandoned mining towns further in the interior. To add to the horror, this "temporary measure" came with devastating permanent consequences: their homes and most of their goods were sold, and the money was used to build and maintain their internment camps. So when the war ended and they were released, these families couldn't go home. They had to start from nothing. So how could such a sad chapter of Canadian history get a gentle enough treatment to be suitable for this Grade-4-and-up graphic novel? By focusing on how at least some of these Japanese Canadians managed to overcome their mistreatment. For Sandy Saito, baseball was a big help. Even before the war, anyone of Asian descent didn't exactly fit in with the predominantly white population of Canada. But on the baseball diamond, it didn't matter what others thought; all that mattered was how you played. As we're introduced to Sandy we find out this young boy is a huge fan of the Vancouver Asahi, a local baseball team made up of Japanese Canadians. Because Asahi players were smaller than their opponents, they couldn't play bash ball; their game wasn't about hitting more home runs than the opposition. They, instead, played "brain ball" with steals and bunts. And it worked so well they won the league championship 11 of the previous 24 years. When Sandy and his family were sent away, he took his baseball glove, as did others. They had no insulation in their cabins, and families had to share space. There were outhouses instead of bathrooms. And they couldn't leave. But they could play baseball. I don't have any cautions to offer. The only critique I can think of is that in making this gentle enough for elementary students, the authors might have made a little too little of the horrible abuse that happened. My own fourth grader read this, and thought it was quite good, but it didn't disturb her like it did me. That's probably because I was reading between the lines, and she was just taking it as it was told on the page. As to audience, she didn't know if it would grab a fourth-grade boy's attention. I think she might be on to something. Even though baseball is central to the story, this isn't a sports book. We don't see any great plays, or tight games, so it doesn't have that sort of boyish pull. But for elementary-and-up kids with any interest in history, this will be a very intriguing read. And for adults like me, who never knew about these events, this is a must-read. If we want our government to act with restraint in the future, we need to remember the times when it didn't do so in the past. We need to know, and we need to share that history, lest in forgetting it, we have to live through it again. For a more brutal account of how the US treated Japanese Americans during the war, you'll want to read We Hereby Refuse: Japanese American Resistance to Wartime Incarceration....