By Ken Mochizuki
Dom Lee, illustrator
Lee and Low Books
Back Cover: “Shorty” and his family, along with thousands of Japanese-Americans, are forced to relocate from their home to a “camp” after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Fighting the heat, dust, and freezing cold nights of the desert, Shorty and the others at the camp need something to look forward to, even if only for nine innings. So they build a playing field, and in this unlikely place, a baseball league is formed. Surrounded by barbed-wire fencings and guards in towers, Shorty soon finds that he is playing not only to win, but to gain dignity and self-respect as well. Inspired by actual events.”
Opening: “One day, my dad looked out at the endless desert and decided then and there to build a baseball field. He said people needed something to do in Camp.”
In 1942, after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, the United States decided it was safest to secure all Japanese-Americans, rather than worry about allegiances.* Thousands of people from coastal homes in the west were packed up—with only a few items and many losing their homes—and taken to internment camps in the middle of the desert.
This made simple sense back then. Control those who might still have an unbreakable bond with their homeland and would be willing to harm America. The problem with this approach is the message it sent to the rest of Americans, some of who then responded in hurtful, and sometimes hateful, ways against all Japanese-Americans, even after the war and the people returned.
Young Shorty had kid problems prior to the internment camps. Being a short kid and less athlete, he was ways the last kid chosen—the one nobody wanted on their team. This life of freedom, albeit not an easy one for Shorty, was much better than what would soon happen.
At home, mom is crying and dad is loading up what he can to take to the camp. Freedom lost now required standing in long lines, even for the bathroom. Those who once prided themselves on their work ethic now had still hands, unless you count the work needed to remove the constant dust.
Shorty’s dad looked out at the barren land and decided a baseball field would at least keep the kids active. So with help, he flooded an area of dusty land, turning it into compact sand suitable for a baseball diamond. With stray wood, the men built bleachers, while the women created baseball uniforms from mattress covers. Friends outside of the camp sent the needed baseball equipment. Soon, the men had built a field of dreams, and yes, the kids did play.
Baseball Saved Us tells the story of the internment camp baseball leagues, mentioning little about the actual day-to-day sacrifices living at the camp demanded. The story emphasizes Shorty’s anger, frustrations, and fear of the guards, especially the one in the tower. He fails to recognize the guard enjoying the games and Shorty’s progress. If the guard was menacing, as young Shorty believes, I doubt the guard would have smiled and given Shorty a thumbs up when he hit a long, high homerun, winning the championship for his team. Empathizing with your captor must be difficult, but Shorty is projecting his fears onto a guard who has simply watched him play baseball, and this fear turns into the alarming paranoia. Little eases Shorty’s fears and his brother suddenly becoming disrespectful only add to this.
Nearly three years ago I reviewed another book about the baseball leagues of the Japanese-American internment camps. The Lucky Baseball: My Story in a Japanese-American Internment Camp by Suzanne Lieurance tells the story of Harry Yakamoto a young boy who started the baseball league inside the internment camp, while his restaurant owning family helped in the kitchen, making edible food. The Lucky Baseball detailed life in the camp and the spirit of cooperation that allowed the internees more control over their surroundings and their lives. Baseball Saved Us is squarely about baseball and its transcending powers for those incarcerated at the camps in the Arizona desert.
My only reservation is Shorty’s emotions heading into paranoia. I would have liked more of the camp life in the story to help explain this extreme emotion. Being taunted by others yelling, “Easy out, no batter,” during a baseball game is part of the game. I think boys will enjoy this book. Shorty is nearly every kid at some point or another. Only a few are born terrific ball players. Shorty takes his frustrations of camp life and his hatred of the tower guard and transforms them into batting power unlike any he had ever encountered. These emotions, very closely tied, help him focus, and gave him a determination rarely seen—at least in terms of baseball power. Kids who play ball—practically every boy and scores of girls—will like Baseball Saved Us. Many will take Shorty’s determination and make it their own.
*In 1988, The U.S. government admitted placing Japanese-Americans from the west coast in internment camps was wrong.
AWARDS – 1993 Parents’ Choice Award / Washington State Governor’s Writers Award / Best Multicultural Title, “Cuffies Award” / “Editors’ Choice” – San Francisco Chronicle / “Choices,” Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) / “Pick of the Lists,” – American Bookseller / Washington State Children’s Choice Award Finalist
Baseball Saved Us
by Ken Mochizuki website twitter linkedin
Dom Lee, illustrator website
Lee and Low Books website blog facebook twitter
Released October 1993
Age 4 to 8
BASEBALL SAVED US. Text copyright © 1993 by Ken Mochizuki. Illustrations copyright © 1993 by Dom Lee. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Lee and Low, New York NY.
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- Internment Camps (camilacarballo.wordpress.com)
- Fresno, CA. Tower Pays Tribute To Interned Japanese-Americans (team-yellow.com)
- Lest We Forget: Internment Camps in North America (nickmatthews.ca)
- Japanese-American Internment (isadorabusch100w.wordpress.com)
Any story that can help enlighten people as to the reality of the horrors of humanity and also show how to go about persevering through those horrors is certainly good! This sounds both heartwrenching and uplifting at the same time. It makes me think of what baseball meant after 9/11. I was an avid baseball fan for a good 15 years (not so much now, I’m spending my time on other things instead of 162 games a year!), so when 9/11 happened, I was right in it. I’ll never forget the Yankees’ (my team) effect on the city and what it was like watching the World Series that year. Ultimately, they lost the series which, as idyllic as that would’ve been at that moment in time, it was almost more appropriate that it didn’t happen. That loss mirrored what we (the nation and humanity) lost that day. But still—baseball served as this amazing “positive” in the midst of unspeakable horror.
Wow. That is a lot for one game to do (baseball, not the game at hand). It is no wonder the Yankees are called the nation’s team, I thought it was due to Babe Ruth, but I think I am wrong.
Actually, I think the “nation’s team” thing is probably more because of their legacy and the large number of big-name players through the years. Plus, NYC is that kind of venue.
I know the world felt the horror of 9/11, but the further away you are in proximity, the less (generally speaking) impact it has on people. I was born in NY and live in Jersey, about 30 min. from downtown Manhattan, and travel in and out of the city on occasion. I know people who were directly impacted by it, too 😦 In fact, 4 days after it happened, I was scheduled to do clown work at a family’s party that I’d been to the year before also. It was difficult calling to see if we were still “on,” but I had to. I got the wife on the phone and it turned out that her husband worked at the WTC, but on 9/11 it was their child’s first day of kindergarten. She convinced him to go in late so they could both go to the school together. Thank God for him, of course, but all the people he knew from the company he worked for died that day 😦 Obviously, he suffered tremendously, not only do to the personal loss, but from survivor’s remorse. She told me they weren’t going to cancel the child’s birthday party. They felt they NEEDed it and really needed me to be there. I was no major entertainer, believe me, and I can tell you that, although everyone there was enjoying each other and behaving as normally as was possible, the relentless pain in our hearts and the heaviness of the tragedy was underlying and permeated everything.
So, when the Yankees were having a really good season, and the typical end-of-season tension was in the air, even New Yorkers who weren’t Yankees fans were pulling for them. They represented the “fight” and “hope” of New Yorkers at a time when that had to be at the forefront. Watching those games was incredibly uplifting, more so because of what had happened, so the loss of the Series that year felt that much more devastating—but ironically appropo in its way, too.
The world’s seen an awful lot of tragedy (exponentially) over the past decade or two, both manmade and through natural disasters, and we witness it bringing out the best AND the worst in people. When we have to, most people are resilient and find ways to get through the unthinkable.
Anyway, that’s my take on it! Plaaaaaay baaaaaaall! 🙂
What an excellent story! I love baseball.
I bet you like playing infield and grabbing all those rolling balls. But you could also be a great outfielder and grab the ball on the fly. I know, let’s start an all dog baseball league. YOU IN? 🙂
Sue, You may also want to take a look at Marissa Moss’s beautiful book, Barbed Wire Baseball.
OH, I will. Thanks for the heads up!
Great review. This was a sad time in our country. 😦 But, now, all we need is world peace, and then, all would be perfect!
Erik, honey, it will be in the hands of your generation. I do not think mine will accomplish this. Please succeed. 😀
I’ll try. But first, I must write a book about it! 🙂
That would be a great start! ❗
I never even knew they played baseball in the camps! I’m getting a real education here!
I am so glad to be teaching the teacher!! 🙂