Reading/Interest Level: Intermediate
Author: Lois Sepahban
Publisher: Margaret Ferguson Books
Ten-year-old Manami’s whole life changes when her family, along with other Japanese-Americans, are forced to move away from their homes to prison camps around the United States. Manami and her family end up in the California desert—a huge change from the beautiful island in Washington where she grew up. After Manami gets her precious dog, Yujiin, taken away during the relocation and after the shock of such dismal living conditions, Manami finds that she is unable to speak. Instead, she finds solace in drawing. She draws pictures and writes notes to Yujiin and releases them into the wind, hoping that he will find them and know where to find her. Soon, Manami realizes that even in these circumstances, she still has a family that is trying its best, a passion for learning, and a culture that gives her a sense of identity. Even if Yujiin never comes back, she might still have love to give.
Paper Wishes is a great book for viewing a historical event—the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II—through a child’s eyes, instead of through the impersonal lens of facts. By learning about this piece of history in a story format and hearing how the experience might have actually been for a child, a reader can interact with a difficult piece of history by empathizing with the people who suffered in internment camps. However, using the child as a narrator does make certain aspects of the plot confusing. For example, if a reader does not have a previous knowledge of Japanese internment camps, they may be confused about why Manami and her family have to leave their home, since Manami does not have all the information herself. Though the “Author’s Note” does discuss a little bit of the history behind Manami’s story, it could be useful to have a discussion about the history with a younger reader before or after they read the book to make sure they understand that this is historical fiction.