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Weedflower
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41 of 44 people found the following review helpful
Full-disclosure time. I did not like "Kira-Kira". I respected what author Cynthia Kadohata was trying to do and I understood where she was trying to take her book but I did not respect how she did it. So when a co-worker I trust handed me, "Weedflower" and said, "It's actually good", I eyed the title with a critical eye. It takes a very extraordinary book to lift me out of my own personal prejudices and win me BACK over to a writer. That said, it seems that Kadohata has written such a book. Insightful, intelligent, historically accurate, and chock full of well-timed and well-written little tidbits, I've not found myself wanting to keep reading and reading a children's book this good in quite some time. Undoubtedly one of this year's rare can't-miss titles.

Sumiko is just thrilled. She's just been invited to her very first birthday party with all the other children in her class. Though she lives in California on her aunt and uncle's flower farm, Sumiko doesn't know a lot of other Japanese-American children at her school. When she arrives at the party, however, the mother of the birthday girl turns her away from the house. Not long after this humiliating incident, Pearl Harbor is bombed. Now Sumiko and her family members are getting shipped off to an internment camp for the duration of the war. They eventually find themselves in one located on an Indian Reservation in Arizona. The Japanese-Americans don't want to be there and the Indians don't want them. Still, while fighting boredom and the apparent death of her dreams, Sumiko is able to meet one of the Mohave boys that make deliveries to the camp and strike up a tentative friendship. Dealing with issues as heavy as how to survive without your basic Civil Rights and balancing them with stories of growth, mischief, and frustration, Kadohata intricately weaves together multiple strands of narrative and story to serve up a tale that is wholly new and engaging.

Flower farmers don't get much play in kids' books. Ditto Japanese internment titles that discuss the Poston internment camp. On the bookflap we learn that Kadohata's father was held at Poston during WWII and that his experiences provided the impetus for this book. Most remarkable is how deftly Kadohata is able to give her characters three-dimensions while still filling in just enough story, facts, and background to provide for a well-rounded novel. Though it slows down a little at the beginning, "Weedflower" hits the ground running once Sumiko finds herself turned away from the birthday party. That small piece of foreshadowing is such a wonderful little way to begin the book with a feeling for things to come that you almost wonder if it happened to someone Kadohata or her father knew. Of course the really remarkable thing about "Weedflower" is that you feel the threat the Japanese-Americans were under without ever having to see violent or particularly nasty scenes. It's the mark of a good children's writer when the author is able to convey danger without relying on shock or cheap theatrics. A true class act.

Not that Kadohata doesn't occasionally slip back into bad habits. The bulk of my dislike of "Kira-Kira" was based on the author's tendency to pile on the despair. Things get bad, and then the author will write a sentence or a paragraph that just milks the misery for all it's worth. As far as I could ascertain, that only happens once in this book. At one point Kadohata says, "Some nights Sumiko felt too sad to be inside listening to everyone breathe. Tak-Tak's nose was often stuffed, and Sumiko hated to listen to him struggle for freath. She imagined his lungs brown with dust. And Auntie was so depressed about Bull and Ichiro leaving that she cried for hours at night. Sumiko thought there was nothing in the world sadder than listening to someone cry for hours. It was even worse than your own tears". But such sections are few and far between. For the most part, Kadohata knows how to show and not tell. She's at her best when she makes it clear how the "ultimate boredom" a person can succumb to can kill your will to do anything. Idle hands are the devil's playthings indeed.

Actually, I've a bit of a beef with the cover. Sure, a shot of a pretty Japanese-American girl looking through barbed wire while wearing a kimono is a nice idea. But when on earth does Sumiko wear a kimono in this book? I remember that she owned one and that she pushed it to the back of the closet back in her California home but mostly when she wants to dress up she wears an increasingly bedraggled mint green school dress. Yet apparently the publisher didn't think a kid wearing anything less than a piece of symbolism would do. I would have much preferred to have seen Sumiko in normal school clothes, but there's no denying that while it may not be accurate, the cover of this book is rather stunning. A cheap shot, but stunning.

There are quite a few children's books that discuss the internments of WWII. The one that I kept thinking back to while reading this book was, "Invisible Thread" by Yoshiko Uchida. Uchida's book is based on memory and is good for what it is. It just so happens that Kadohata's book may be significantly more powerful in part because she doesn't have to adhere to her own memories and in part because the situation her father was in works so well in a children's book. A book published the same year as, "Weedflower" that also follows a forced internment at the hands of the U.S. Government is Joseph Bruchac's good but long, "Geronimo". Both books have a great deal in common, but Bruchac weighs down his narrative with too little editing whereas Kadohata keeps, "Weedflower" hopping along at a fast clip. I wish I could swamp "Weedflower" for "Kira-Kira" and make IT the Newbery winner of 2004. Ah well. As it stands, I recommend it to any and all kids forced by their schools to write a book report on a recent book of historical fiction. This is one of the more charming titles out there, and definitely will be making quite a few Best Book lists for 2006. Lovely lovely lovely.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on May 31, 2006
For Sumiko, it all starts with the birthday party of one of her classmates. When she arrives at a party to which the entire class has been invited, she is quietly and firmly ejected for being Japanese.

"It's not me, dear," her classmate's mother says as she pushes Sumiko out the door, "but my husband has a few friends in back, some of the other parents who helped him raise some money for a charity we work with...." The possibility that the other parents might take offense to Sumiko being Japanese is enough for Sumiko to lose her invitation to the party. What she doesn't realize is that these attitudes shared by many of the hakujin (white people) are also enough for her to lose her home.

When the United States is attacked by Japan at Pearl Harbor, the government rounds up all the Niekki --- people of Japanese ancestry, including American-born citizens --- sending them to internment camps in the center of the country. Leaving behind their flower farm, their home, and most of their belongings, Sumiko and her family are shipped to a relocation center in the Sonoran desert.

There, amidst the grief and distress of an uprooted life, they do their best to rebuild their lives and form a community. For Sumiko this means planting a garden filled with the colorful and spicy-smelling weedflowers they farmed at home.

Cynthia Kadohata won a Newbery Award for KIRA-KIRA, her portrait of a family of Japanese factory workers living in Georgia after WWII. One of the most difficult challenges for any writer is following up on such a resounding success. A book on Japanese internment camps is a subject that will resonate with librarians and teachers, but what is uncertain is whether or not it will also appeal to young readers.

The author shows a deft touch in her handling of the material. She avoids sensationalism in the treatment of her characters and their experiences. Deprivation and violence aren't necessary in showing the painful loss of homes and civil liberties. While there are definite similarities between the political climate during WWII and that of our own post-9/11 world, Kadohata doesn't burden her narrative with contemporary political baggage.

The power of WEEDFLOWER is in Kadohata's clarity of detail and her deeply personal approach to the material. When Sumiko is feeling sorriest for herself, she meets Frank, a Mohave boy who is angry that the American government has placed the Japanese internment camp on the Mohave reservation. He tells Sumiko that the Mohave do not have the running water and electricity that are part of the amenities at camp. "You're not the first people to lose things," he says.

Sumiko recalls her grandfather telling her about his immigration from Japan. "I don't see sky for many long time. I feel close to ultimate boredom. That mean close to lose mind. Inside myself, I feel like screaming. Outside myself, I calm." Instead of giving into "the ultimate boredom," Sumiko makes the desert bloom.

--- Reviewed by Sarah A. Wood
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on May 3, 2006
"Weedflower" is the moving story of Japanese-Americans during WWII - - especially appropriate when the fragility of human rights is being demonstrated during yet another war. Sixth-grader Sumiko and her young brother Tak Tak were taken in by close relatives following the death of parents. Sumiko finds healing through hard work & dreams of someday owning a flower shop. Their life is one of few surprises, with strict adherence to the family regimen but Sumiko is crushed by rejection from the mother of a white schoolgirl who had invited her to a birthday party.

Then follows the unthinkable blow of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the evacuation of "Nikkei" (Nisei) to detention centers. An important part of the book for me is what was NOT discussed; the curtain of dust in the desert is described in vivid detail so that readers will almost taste that suffocating bitterness. But Cynthia Kadohata does not mention the comfortable "others" shielded by a curtain of censorship employed by our government. It lowered this curtain separating those secure in their rights from those who couldn't know whether their rights would ever again be respected.

Curtained by dust and detention the Nisei agonized to make their lives orderly once more. Kadohata writes about the details of everyday life: in southern California where the flower farm was diligently tended & family standards adhered to /AND/ in the Camp built for detainees on a Mohave Indian reservation where the rigid family structure fell apart as goals were abandoned and purpose for living so deeply shaken.

Recollecting the days after Pearl Harbor I am surprised by the perception that the Quakers (Religious Society of Friends) were the only group expressing shock and concern. There is an unsettling similarity in the treatment of the Japanese-Americans and conscientious objectors during WWII, although even less has been written about the latter. I have experienced a few years of primitive living conditions but never racial discrimination and total disruption.

Sumiko feels that those (Issei) not born in America & imprisoned in North Dakota "would die of cold and she would die of heat" in Arizona. "And then, she believed, the rest of America would be satisfied." But Sumiko was better prepared for the ordeal than some because "her whole life.....had been a lesson in how to change your lot by accepting it and learning from it."

The Native Americans did not welcome the Camp on their reservation but they eventually benefited from the fact that the Nisei were better treated by the government! There were many tensions among detainees that would not have occurred to me; these are described with great sensitivity by the author. The government's pressure on the Nisei to "support the war effort" by taking jobs 'outside' and the pressure exerted on men to join the military seem the ultimate ironies.

Whatever our ages, we will learn much from this book about the elements of Camp life, the desperation of people hanging on to their sanity, the gifts of friendship, the price of freedom - - these must all be thoughtfully pondered and shared. Reviewer mcHAIKU also recommends that you find Allen Say's provocative writings: "Music for Alice" (# 0618311181) & "Home of the Brave" (# 061821223X) to read with family or friends.

In the bittersweet yet hopeful ending, the author of "Weedflower" has Sumiko leaving her Mohave friend, Frank, for a new life: Sumiko writes that leaving is "like you didn't know if people would let you in their grocery store" . . . and readers may continue to wonder if Sumiko's "freedom" will allow her to resume a quasi-normal existence? This beautifully told story should provoke much discussion and self-examination about how we view the rights of our neighbors. Will we allow these questions to transform our thinking . . . like the life cycle of the moth so important to Sumiko who transformed the desert with her treasured "kusabana" - - or weedflowers?
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Weedflower is told from the perspective of Sumiko, a young girl born to a Japanese immigrant family in the U.S. during World War II. Weedflower chronicles the treatment of Sumiko's family, as the older men not born in the U.S. are shipped off to a virtual prison, and the rest of the family is sent to a detention camp in the desert. Their property, not to mention their dignity, are stripped away because of fear caused by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Sumiko, however, maintains hope through her passion for growing flowers.

This book is written in a simple, easily accessible style, but tells an important story. Although set in the 1940's, Weedflower carries implications for today, in how we treat people of Muslim descent. The story is a window into what it's like for people to be mis-treated, at the hands of their own country, simply because of their ethnicity. It shows how unfair and greedy people, including the government, can be (as when the Japanese were forced to sell their possessions for pennies on the dollar). It also illustrated what can happen to people when their rights, and their ability to strive for success, are taken away. Some of the children run wild, and steal things. Some of the young men give up hope, and lie around all day. Here is an example of the boredom and hopelessness of the camp overtaking Sumiko:

"Sumiko felt the ultimate boredom closing in on her. The ultimate boredom wasn't dread of the next year or of what the government might do next; it was dread of your own mind, dread of the next day, the next hour, the next minute. You could lose your mind at any time. Like one morning, for no good reason, Sumiko actually stomped on a butterfly that landed in the dust. After she moved her foot, she saw the squished bitterly and wondered what had come over her. She hadn't thought about it beforehand, but had just suddenly stomped on the poor butterfly. She figured maybe she'd had a sudden attack of the ultimate boredom, and then when she'd seen the dead butterfly she snapped out of it."

There are examples of non-Japanese Americans who do the right thing, too. A young woman volunteers to teach the Japanese kids at the internment camp, despite difficult surroundings. A woman takes time to write to the Japanese woman whose house she is now living, to let the Japanese woman know that the other woman is taking good care of her dog. The Japanese woman sobs with happiness. Christmas presents are donated to the detention camp for the kids. The examples stand out, like the flowers that the Japanese grow from the dusty ground of their camp.

The characterization in Weedflower is quite strong. Many of the characters, especially Sumiko, her friend Frank, and her cousin Bull, feel real. Their characters are mostly revealed through action, rather than being described. This is especially true of Bull, Sumiko's quiet, strong cousin, who intervenes when he see the opportunity, to keep things running smoothly.

A scene that I think will resonate with kids occurs early in the book, before the family is sent to a detention camp. Sumiko, the only Japanese girl in her class at school, is excited to be invited to her first birthday party. She dresses up, and her uncle spends precious money for her to buy a present. However, when the parents at the party learn that she's Japanese, they quietly and politely ask her to leave. Here is what Sumiko thought afterward:

"Like anyone, Sumiko had known momentarily embarrassing moments, but right now she felt so overwhelmingly humiliated that it was as if nothing in her life would ever be the same again, as if everything she did -- disbudding flowers, heating the water, cooking rice -- would be different from now on. In the future, she wouldn't be Sumiko who was disbudding flowers, she would be Humiliated Sumiko disbudding flowers. She wouldn't be Sumiko heating water and cooking rice, she would be Humiliated Sumiko heating water and cooking rice. And right at this moment she wasn't just Sumiko sitting along on the bench, she was Humiliated Sumiko."

Overall, I think that Weedflower is strong on theme and character, and a detailed portrayal of life among Japanese immigrants during World War II. It's an enjoyable read, but it doesn't have a strong "what happens next?" sort of plot. I think that it's a book that adults will like, and that some kids will enjoy, but that others may find a bit slow-paced.

This book review was originally published on my blog, Jen Robinson's Book Page, on February 17, 2007.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on February 16, 2009
Cynthia Kadohata's book, Weedflower, brings a story about a young Japanese girl's hardships of living in America after Pearl Harbor. As a young girl, Sumiko and her brother lost their parents in a car accident and moved on to thier aunt and uncle's flower farm. Sumiko loved the farm and wanted to own her very own flower shop when she got older.

All of her dreams went away when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. All Japanese had to move to camps because they were all thought of as spies even though most were American born. Torn away from her flower farm, Sumiko and her family had to be moved to one of the hottest deserts in America. Not to mention, the camp was on an Indian reserve where the Japanese were also not wanted. Here she finds hardships at first but then finds a couple of friends.

This book is a great learning tool for young readers to learn about how life was a struggle for most Japanese living in America after the attack on Pearl Harbor. This book jumps off the pages and comes to life for the reader. Amazing story that should be read by all young, and even older readers.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on July 31, 2006
Cynthia Kadohata's first novel, Kira-Kira, was an impressive book. And Weedflower is equally impressive. This time the novel is set in the Southwest before and during World War II. Sumiko is a typically happy twelve-year old. While she feels awkward that she's the only Japanese-American in her class at school, she has not yet felt the harsh stings of discrimination...until a vicious birthday party. Soon after, I believe the same weekend, Pearl Harbor is bombed. Her normal life vanishes, no more school...no more social life...only fear and anxiety as they wait to see what will become of them all.

It is a very heart-felt story of one girl's experiences in a Japanese-American internment camp. Definitely recommend it to everyone!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on March 27, 2008
The Weedflower is a great, realistic, fiction book about a Japanese girl named Sumiko raised on a farm in California. She is the only Japanese girl in her class and is always being teased. Especially after the Pearl Harbor tragedy, she was thought of as a spy like the rest of the Japanese people in America by most citizens. Also as the suspicion grows about spies, Sumikos' family finds that they're being moved to an internment camp in one of the hottest deserts in the USA. The old life they had is now just a memory. Then Sumiko discovers that the camp is on an Indian reservation, and that the Japanese are just as unwanted there as they were at their old home. That is when she meets a young boy from the Mohave tribe. Could this be her real first friend? Even if he is angry that the camp she is living on is his tribes land. The theme is a Japanese girl who is being mistreated and being left out of a lot of things. The reason why I like this is because Sumiko always finds a way to prevail and be happy at the end of every situation she is put in.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on August 11, 2011
Loved it. Simply put it is the story of a 12 year old Japanese girl named Sumiko. She lives on a flower farm in California and is relocated to the desert. It brought to life what it would have been like to be hated in your own country and hidden away because people fear you becoming a traitor. Everyday she lives in boredom and dirt where she makes friends with an Indian boy and grows a garden in the desert. I loved her story and I love how simply the writer puts things. Everything is straight forward and uncomplicated. Their fears are brought into life. This is actually the author of the Newbury book Kira-Kira which I hear isn't even as good as this one. All young girls should read this book, and older girls as well. Learn some sympathy for their differences. Being blonde and American makes it harder for me to imagine being the minority especially after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on October 8, 2012
This story about a girl whose family is torn apart by the Japanese internment in the US, is beautiful, thoughtful and thought-provoking. It gives the reader a glimpse into what it felt like to live through such events. The story takes a fascinating twist when the main character is sent to an internment camp on Navajo land. Assumptions are challenged and multiple perspectives examined. A wonderful blend of history and storytelling. All of my students (5th grade) love this book, but grumble about the ending; I love the ending because it echos the uncertainty of the time and is a great spring board for discussing what could happen after the last page.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on March 12, 2014
My 10 yr old son loves this book. It is one of the choices for his school's Battle of the Books program. He didn't want to read it at first because it looks like a "girl book," but once he started he couldn't put it down. The package arrived quickly and undamaged.
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