Monday, May 12, 2014

Barbed Wire Baseball by Marissa Moss

Barbed Wire Baseball by Marissa Moss, illustrated by Yuko Shimizu

Rating: 4 stars

There's just so much you can learn through baseball.  I'm talking about sobering American history: what happened to Japanese-Americans during World War II after Pearl Harbor was attacked.

Kenichi Zenimura was born in Japan then immigrated to America when he was eight.  He was small and slight--barely five feet tall and only one hundred pounds!--but fell in love with baseball the first time he saw a ball game.  His parents wanted him to become something more serious and important--a lawyer or doctor, perhaps--but "Zeni" coached and managed and played baseball. He was selected to play with star members of the New York Yankees, and even arranged for Babe Ruth to play in Japan.

But that world collapsed for him when the Japanese
attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941.
But in 1941, when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, his world changed.

As you probably know, but as your children probably yet do not, Japanese-Americans were sent to camps in the west because the government considered them possible spies.  Zeni was heartbroken not to continue his work in baseball, but since that was what gave him joy and made him feel happy, he brought it to the camp.  Zeni mobilized his friends and family and, with many hours of hard labor, built a true baseball field in the dry Arizona camp.

Most of the book is about the building of the field--Moss writes how Zeni was focused on creating a real ballpark, not just a thrown-together one.  "We have to do this right," he explained.  I love the focus on doing a job well and right, with a focus on excellence.  All of this gets you, and got Zeni and his helpers, a huge sense of pride when the job is done.

Zeni is between Lou Gehrig (second from left)
and Babe Ruth at an exhibition game in Fresno, CA
The mood around camp shifted as the first game approached, as people had something to look forward to and enjoy.  People filled the bleachers and spilled over onto the ground, excited to watch as Zeni, his sons, and their friends simply played ball.  And felt free.

This is a really good book, though definitely for an older reader and best read while in your lap--it is sure to raise a few very good, very serious questions, and hopefully a patient parent or grandparent or teacher can answer those questions.

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