This novel presents a fictionalized account of injustices endured by two real California children during World War II and is based on multiple interviews with both and other historical records. In alternating chapters Conkling follows the forced relocation of young Aki Munemitsu and her family to a camp in Arizona and the experiences of Sylvia Mendez, who moves into Aki’s old room when her father rents the Munemitsus’ asparagus farm. When his children are denied enrollment in the town’s main school, Sylvia’s father institutes what becomes the landmark desegregation suit Mendez v. Westminster School District. Though both story lines feature only the sketchiest of plots, the author perceptively focuses on both children’s inner questions about their own self-worth and identities as Americans in the face of open discrimination. At the war’s end the children meet (they’re still friends to this day) and exchange dolls. Conkling closes with notes about the families, the suit, the camps, and further resources. This story, despite its purposeful agenda, illuminates a lesser-known milestone in our country’s struggle for equal rights for all. Grades 4-6. --John Peters
About the Author
WINIFRED CONKLING studied journalism at Northwestern University and spent the next 25 years writing nonfiction for adult readers, including for Consumer Reports
magazine and more than 30 nonfiction books. As part of her transition to writing for young people, she is working toward her Master of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Sylvia & Aki is her first work for children.