This Light Between Us

One difference, not including the bun and sensible shoes, between librarians and the rest of the universe is that we can just about always recommend a book to meet your needs. My personal strength with this lies primarily with fiction, while other librarians own a Dewey number or two and can put the right book in your hand to answer a reference question faster than Donald Trump can write an offensive Tweet.

During these months of working from home, I’ve been reading books to my middle grade students. Many publishers and authors have generously loosened copyright restrictions and allowed educators to share, for school use only, recordings of their published works being read. It is appreciated.

I’ve always loved to read aloud and I think I do it pretty well. That doesn’t mean it isn’t challenging to read to a camera on my chrome book, instead of to a group of students in front of me in real life. It isn’t the same, but I’ve tried to select books that appeal to a range of kids and I have gotten some positive feedback and interaction from my students.

The book I’m currently reading to my Google class has proven to be remarkably appropriate for our current political climate and the parallels have, at times, caused me to tear up during my reading sessions. While I considered editing those videos, I elected to leave them intact. If we don’t show children our compassionate response to literature and life, we deny them an opportunity to know us a human beings.

The book, This Light Between Us by Andrew Fukuda, is subtitled “A novel of World War II,” and while this is certainly true, it actually relates a story that very much reaches into our current American society.

Alex Maki, a first generation American of Japanese descent, lives with his parents and older brother, Frank, on Bainbridge Island in Washington State. His parents immigrated from Japan and built a life as strawberry farmers only to lose everything following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. First Alex’s father, along with other adult males, is taken to a distant jail because of the perceived threat to national security. Eventually the remainder of the family is delivered to Manzanar, our country’s internment camp for Americans of Japanese descent, where they live in substandard housing, isolated from everything they’ve ever known.

As Alex relates the historical fiction experiences of his family, we come to know his pen pal, Charlie, a Parisian Jewish girl he has been corresponding with for a number of years. Despite Alex’s initial disappointment upon learning that Charlie is a girl, and not a boy as assumed, the two form a close friendship that spans the distance between Washington and Paris.

The letters between Alex and Charlie reveal a world that is rapidly becoming increasingly hostile, through not fault of their own, to each of them. As they lose their privileges and basic rights at a dizzying speed, it is impossible to not see similarities with contemporary immigrants and discriminated against populations in our country.

At a point in the story when 227 Japanese Americans are being essentially deported to a prison camp, one passage just about broke me. As the Maki family made their way to the barge, their first step in being transported to Manzanar, the principal of the boys’ high school along with other community members gather to wish them well in their travels. Principal Dennis says the following:

“…this is a terrible injustice, and we’ll never live it down as a community, as a nation. It’ll be a blight on us. I’m so very sorry.”

At a point in time when our country is confronted with the treatment of people of color and immigrants, this book couldn’t be more timely – or important.

One thought on “This Light Between Us

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