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Baseball Saved Us
by Ken Mochizuki
“Shorty” and his family, along with thousands of Japanese Americans, are forced to relocate from their home to a “camp” after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Fighting the heat, dust, and freezing cold nights in the desert, Shorty and the others at the camp need something to look forward to, even if only for nine innings. So they build a playing field, and in this unlikely place, a baseball league is formed.
Surrounded by barbed-wire fences and guards in towers, Shorty soon finds that he is playing not only to win, but to gain dignity and self-respect as well.
Although Baseball Saved Us is a picture book, the story introduces the history of Japanese American internment camps. An unnamed narrator explains the confusion of having to leave his home and the changes that came with living in the internment camp. His older brother begins spending more time with his friends and at one point becomes disrespectful. This event causes the narrator’s father to create the baseball field. With the help of others—inside and outside the camp—the baseball field becomes a reality.
The narrator knows he isn’t “that good” at baseball, but he keeps trying his best. The narrator gets angry that a guard is “always watching, always staring.” At this point, he is able to hit a home run. After that pivotal game, the narrator is back at school, being ignored by all of the white students. Baseball gives him a way to connect with the other kids. The story quickly jumps from the internment camp to events after the war. Because of the story’s choppy flow, readers may need help connecting all of the events together.
The sepia-toned illustrations mimic the colors of the desert where the internment camp was located. In most of the pictures, the faces of the people are indistinguishable, which gives the reader the feeling that the person could be anyone—even someone they know. Both the story and the illustrations explore the topics of prejudice and racism. The narrator learns how to deal with his feelings of anger and resentment. Through baseball he is able to gain a sense of self-respect.
Although the topic is presented in kid-friendly language, Baseball Saved Us hits on heavy topics that readers may have questions about. Unlike other picture books, Baseball Saved Us has text-heavy pages as well as advanced vocabulary. The story is less about baseball and more about the narrator’s experiences in the internment camp. Baseball Saved Us will leave readers with many questions about World War II and the reasons why Japanese Americans were put in the internment camps. Baseball Saved Us would be an excellent book to read with a child and use as a conversation starter.
Drugs and Alcohol
- When Shorty was up to bat, someone yells “Jap.” The narrator “hadn’t heard that word since before I went to Camp—it meant that they hated me.”