Friday, September 27, 2019

Just Like Rube Goldberg by Sarah Aronson

You've probably heard of Rube Goldberg machines, which are machines designed to perform a simple task in a very complicated way. But who was Rube Goldberg and how did his name come to be attached to this kind of contraption? Just Like Rube Goldberg is a picture book that answers both of those questions. Rube Goldberg was an American cartoonist who drew cartoons of fantastical machines completing simple tasks like killing a mosquito or licking a postage stamp. Eventually these machines came to be called Rube Goldberg machines.

Rube Goldberg was a quiet, shy boy who loved to draw. He dreamed of becoming a cartoonist for a big newspaper but this idea did not make his father happy. Rube's father was concerned that his son would end up impoverished. To make his father happy, Rube enrolled in engineering at the University of California at Berkeley. After graduation he worked for the City of San Francisco's Department of Water and Sewers. The work was not appealing to Rube and he quit after six months.

He decided to pursue his passion even if it meant starting at the bottom. Rube got a job as a janitor at the San Francisco Chronicle. While holding down this job, Rube kept drawing cartoons and submitted them to the editor. Occasionally, Rube's cartoons were accepted but most were rejected.A year later Rube was working for the sports department at the San Francisco Bulletin.

In 1906, San Francisco was destroyed by a strong earthquake and the resulting fire. Rube decided to move to New York City where he found a job as a cartoonist with the New York Evening Mail.He was on his way to becoming one of the most popular cartoonists of his era. Soon he created his alter ego, Professor Lucifer Gorgonzola Butts, intricate machine inventor extraordinaire. It was these machines that came to be known as Rube Goldberg machines.


Just Like Rube Goldberg is a fascinating and entertaining account of cartoonist Rube Goldberg and how he came to create intricate, impractical machines now known as Rube Goldberg machines. Aronson tells the story of Rube Goldberg's life with a touch of humour.  The overarching message however, is about pursuing your passion and persevering in that quest. It's about never giving up until you reach your goal and in Rube's case, it was becoming a cartoonist for a major newspaper. Rube wanted to please his father, an immigrant from Germany who wanted his son to be successful. His attempt at a career in engineering failed, and he wisely decided to pursue his passion. He succeeded beyond his wildest dreams, and today making "Rube Goldberg machines" is a popular STEM activity.

Accompanying Sarah Aronson's text are Robert Neubecker's cartoon styled illustrations rendered in pencil, ink and digitally enhanced. A wonderful picture book for those children interested in science, art, and building. Also useful in STEAM programs.

Book Details:

Just Like Rube Goldbery by Sarah Aronson

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Julia Morgan Built A Castle by Celeste Davidson Mannis

Julia Morgan was born in 1872 in Oakland, a city on San Francisco Bay. Julia's father was an engineer at a time when cities like San Francisco were rapidly growing. He often took his young family on tours around various construction sites, giving Julia the opportunity to see how buildings were constructed. They frequently visited her cousin, Pierre LeBrun an architect working in New York City. Julia dreamed of being an architect like her cousin but this profession was not considered suitable for a young woman.

In 1890, Julia was accepted into the University of California at Berkeley's engineering program - the only woman in her class. When she graduated in 1895, Julia was hired by Bernard Maybeck, one of her professors who had studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, France. This school was renowned throughout the world but was closed to women. However, times were beginning to change and there were rumours the school might soon open to women students.

Hopeful that this would happen, Julia moved to Paris where she studied the architecture of Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower as well as many other buildings. Julia spent time sketching and making notes and she eventually studied at the studios of two Parisian architects. The Ecole des Beaux-Arts however remained closed to her until 1897 when she was allowed to take the school's exam. Julia was made to write it three times before she was finally accepted in October of 1898. She graduated from the school in 1902, at the age of thirty, winning the first place medal for her design project on a theatre.

Eventually Julia returned to the United States and opened her own business in San Francisco. Most of her buildings survived the devastating earthquake of 1906. In 1919, William Randolph Hearst, a wealthy newspaper publisher commissioned Julia to build his home on land he owned in the Santa Lucia Mountains. This project would occupy more than half of Julia Morgan's fifty-year career as an architect.


Julia Morgan
Julia Morgan Built A Castle portrays the life of famous architect Julia Morgan who is probably best known for her design and building of the Hearst Castle, the residence of William Randolph Hearst at his ranch in San Simeon, California. Julia was both an engineer and architect by training, two disciplines which helped her excel in her work.  Hearst Castle is a stunning example of the melding of architecture and engineering.

Mannis captures Julia Morgan's determination to follow her own dream of becoming an architect. She, like many other women of this era, had to prove themselves above and beyond what was required of men. Many obstacles were placed in her path; she had to write the entrance exam to L'Ecole des Beaux Arts three times and when the requirement that certificates be completed by age thirty, Julia completed hers in three years instead of the normal five years.

Women were thought incapable of working as architects, and it was believed they could not understand the construction of buildings. Yet Julia's bell tower, on the Mills College campus in Oakland withstood the 1906 San Francisco earthquake which leveled almost all buildings in the vicinity. Eventually, her work spoke for itself, earning her the reputation as an outstanding architect.

Although Julia Morgan worked on and completed numerous other projects while working on Hearst Castle, it was one of her best known works. Construction stopped in 1947 on the estate which Hearst called "La Cuesta Encantada" or Enchanted Hill. You can learn more about the Hearst Castle here.

Mannis' text is enhanced by the rich, earthy tones of illustrator Miles Hyman. His bold artwork with solid lines and strong colours, mirrors Julia's determined approach to life. The author has included a special note at the back with more details about Julia Morgan, but there are no photos of this famous woman architect nor of any of the buildings she designed.

image credit:

Book Details:

Julia Morgan Built A Castle by Celeste Davidson Mannis
New York: Viking      2006

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Lovely War by Julie Berry

In Lovely War, Berry uses the frame story, a literary device in which one of the characters in a story narrates another story. In this case, the frame story, that of Aphrodite, Ares and Hephaestus leads readers into a second, main story narrated by Aphrodite about lovers during the First World War.

Although not necessary, it's helpful to know the story of the Greek gods and goddesses referenced in the frame story. Hephaestus, the god of fire, forges and metalworking was the son of Zeus and Hera. Hephaestus, unlike the other gods and goddesses was very ugly while Aphrodite, the goddess of love was so beautiful that she was desired by most of the other gods. To prevent a war between the many gods seeking to marry her, Zeus forced Aphrodite to marry Hephaestus. As a result, Aphrodite was unfaithful to Hephaestus, having affairs with both gods and men. One of those gods was Ares, the god of war and Hephaestus's brother. To catch his unfaithful wife, Hephaestus designed a golden net which he used to catch Aphrodite and Ares making love.

In Lovely War, Berry sets this illicit romantic encounter in December, 1942 in a swanky hotel in Manhattan, New York. Ares and Aphrodite are captured by Hephaestus who uses his golden net. Hephaestus offers her a bargain, to renounce Ares, come home with him and be a faithful wife or he will take her to be tried before Zeus and the other gods on Mount Olympus. The thought of going on trial before the other gods, especially her virgin sisters Artemis and Athena makes Aphrodite blanche. So she offers him a third option, a trial in the hotel room where Hephaestus can be both judge and jury.

Aphrodite pleads guilty and Hephaestus shows her the evidence he has complied of her trysts with Ares. The goddess reveals to Hephaestus and Ares that she doesn't love either of them or anyone else, that although she is the source of love, no one can ever love her, not gods nor mortal men. Instead, Aphrodite is embedded in every love story, true and trivial. So she offers to tell Hephaestus two true love stories, in which she played an important part in bringing about. Hephaestus agrees and so begins the second story, about two couples who fell in love amidst the turmoil and butchery of World War I. As she tells her stories, Aphrodite will call other gods as witnesses.

In November, 2017 nineteen-year-old James Alderich first sees eighteen-year-old Hazel Windicott at a parish dance held at her London borough church, St. Matthias in Poplar.  The fall dance is a benefit to send socks and Bovril broth powder to the troops in France. Hazel, the daughter of a music hall pianist and a factory seamstress, is wearing a mauve lace dress. Tonight she is responsible for playing the piano at the dance. She doesn't notice James until Aphrodite sits beside her and directs her gaze towards him. James does approach Hazel, telling her how much he enjoys her playing and when Mabel Kibbey takes over the piano, James and Hazel dance. James and Hazel quickly learn some basic details about one another, that James has two younger siblings, Maggie and Bobby and that he worked for a building firm.

After the dance James asks Hazel if he can see her again before he ships over to France. Hazel agrees, kissing James on the cheek and telling him her address. James decides to walk to her home above the barbershop at the corner of Grundy and Bygrove. Hazel isn't asleep either and when she sees James she drops a note to the pavement telling him to meet her at the J. Lyons tea shop on Chrisp Street at Guildford at 8am. The two meet the next morning, their breakfast filled with discovering the basics about one another. James invites Hazel to attend a concert at the Royal Albert Hall with him the next day.

The concert featuring Miss Adela Verne was divine, James loved the music and Hazel knew this man was for her. Hazel wants James to kiss her but her tells her that he will, only it will be "on the train platform at Charing Cross next Saturday. Before I set off overseas." This however, does not happen as James is required to travel to Calais the next morning, board a ship to Boulogne and then take a train to the British Expeditionary Force base camp at Etaples in France.

Hazel unable to stay quietly at home, waiting for James to return some day from war, decides to join the war effort as an entertainment secretary in a YMCA relief hut in France where she will play piano for soldiers.Hazel arrives in Saint-Nazaire, France on January 4, 1918.It is here that she meets Colette Fournier, a beautiful blond Belgian girl with a sultry voice.

Aphrodite's first witness is Apollo, the god of dance, music, healing and plagues. Apollo's narrative introduces the male half of another couple in Aphrodite's story.  It begins back in 1912 at Carnegie Hall where James Reese Europe's Clef Club Orchestra is about to perform a "Concert of Negro Music". The orchestra includes over one hundred performers including fifteen-year-old Aubrey Edwards who plays piano. Aubrey discovers his love of performing that night. Five years later Aubrey is playing for the now Lieutenant James R. Europe in the Army Band of the Army National Guard, 15th New York Infantry Regiment in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Their black regiment is stationed at Camp Wadsworth. Aubrey and his friend Joey Rice had enlisted in the regiment in the spring of 1917, to play ragtime with Jim Europe for the troops over in Europe. In early January of 1918, Aubrey Edwards along with forty soldiers from the 15th New York travel across the Atlantic Ocean on the USS Pocahontas, and then travel by train to Saint-Nazaire, the American military training base on the coast of France. It is here that Aubrey will meet Colette.

Aphrodite's second witness, Ares, who tells about James's training for trench warfare and his ability to excel at shooting, a skill that will save his life later on.

Her third witness is Hades, god of the underworld.  Aphrodite now begins her story about Colette Fournier, a girl who, in 1914 lived in the town of Dinant, Belgium with her brother Alexandre and her parents. In 1914, Colette's childhood and best friend, Stephane has fallen in love with her. On a walk up to the medieval citadel overlooking the town, Stephane tells Colette of his feelings for her leading to their first kiss. Ares and Hades take up the story. The young couple, hopelessly in love, do not see the tragedy about to overtake them. On August 15, after the citadel is captured by the Germans, it is quickly retaken by the French. On August 23,  Germans enter the village setting fire to homes, and executing men, women children and babies in retaliation for firing on German troops. Almost seven hundred civilians are massacred including Colette's father, her brother and many other relatives as well as Stephane. In the aftermath, Colette flees to her Aunt Solange in Paris where she enlists into the YMCA, arriving at Saint-Nazaire.

At Saint-Nazaire, Hazel and Colette meet Aubrey Edwards who Hazel dubs "The King of American Ragtime" for his ability to transform any piece of music into jazz. But it is Colette and Aubrey who are taken with one another and who begin a forbidden relationship because Colette is a white female volunteer and Aubrey a black male soldier. Volunteers are forbidden to fraternize with the soldiers and even more so white women and black men. But Aubrey, transfixed by Colette's voice, stung by the tragedy she has endured, falls for her.

At this point all the main characters have been introduced and their connection to one another described. James is at the front, now a sharpshooter, Hazel and Colette and Aubrey are at Saint-Nazaire. From this point on Aphrodite weaves her story of  prejudice, love, war, and death. With the help of Apollo, Ares and Hades the story of Hazel and James and Aubrey and Colette is brought to its satisfying conclusion.


Lovely War is a mashup of Greek mythology and historical romance fiction that works marvelously. Berry has crafted a poignant novel that blends the passion of first love with the horrors of war and prejudice. It is a masterful story of acceptance, loss, and second chances told by Aphrodite, the goddess of love who has been caught in a tryst with Ares, the god of war by her husband Hephaestus.

It turns out the entire thing is a setup in an attempt by Aphrodite to get Hephaestus to accept her love for him. Readers don't learn of this until the very end, when Aphrodite confronts Hephaestus. For the gods, perfect in every way (except for Hephaestus), love is easy but shallow. It's easy to love Aphrodite, perfectly beautiful and desirable. Aphrodite envies mortal men because their frailty and mortality make love true and enduring, something she cannot experience as a god. Her story is told in an attempt to teach the other gods what real love is.

Although Aphrodite tells the tale of two couples, the focus is on the story of Hazel Windicott and James Alderidge's relationship. In the beginning, James and Hazel are attracted to one another in a somewhat superficial manner. They find each other attractive. When Hazel meets James he is wearing a forest-green necktie and a gray tweed jacket. His figure is slim, his face grave, his shoes shined and his dress shirt crisp. His lean, smooth cheeks look soft and he has "the scent of bay rum aftershave and clean, ironed cloth..." about him.  James is entranced by Hazel's exquisite piano playing, her lilac-scented hair, her mauve lace dress. Their feelings for one another are intense but will need the passage of time to develop. The few times they are together both before and during the war, see their affection for one another grow. But it will be soon tested in the furnace of war.

Involved in Operation Michael, the German offensive intended to break through the Allied lines and seize the Channel Ports, James sees his friend Frank Mason blown to bits by a shell. James survives, killing many Germans but is so shell-shocked he refuses to leave his bunker and is eventually carried out by another soldier. He is shipped back to England to Maudsley Military Hospital where he spends a few weeks before being sent home. James, suffering from shell shock refuses to respond to Hazel's letter or to see her. He decides he is unfit for her affection and he must kill it. "He was no more eligible for the love of any girl, good or bad. He was on a shell of a man. A shell of a boy, cringing in the small bed in his childhood bedroom in his parents' home. Utterly unfit to be what any girl might want now."

Hazel however feels very differently.  She visits his hometown and upon their first meeting she tells him, "I came to see if you were alive,...and to be with you, if I could, to help you with your recovery, if you weren't well." Hazel's love for James is not superficial, she has no intention of abandoning him simply because he is unwell.  "The sight of him frightened her. He looked pale and thinner than in Paris. And he was changed.....But he was still her beautiful James." It soon becomes apparent to Hazel that James' scars are deep and hidden. This doesn't matter to her and she pursues James, following him on the train to Lowescroft as he goes to see Frank Mason's widow. Hazel's faithfulness allows James to begin to heal, knowing that he is loved unconditionally. James' kindness towards Frank Mason's widow is returned when Frank appears to him as he and Hazel are on the beach. Frank urges James not to give up Hazel, that she will help him heal. James tells Hazel, "You know that I can never be the boy you used to know...What I've done, and what I've seen, will always be with me." Her response is to ask him to let her too always be with him.

Only months later, the tables are turned. Hazel almost loses her life (Aphrodite intervenes) when the train she is on is hit by a shell. Hazel is badly injured and her face deeply scared. In contrast to James' wounds, Hazel's are exposed, can be seen by all and will never get better. Now it is Hazel's turn to refuse love. She tells him "I can't let you promise our forever to this out of pity, or noble duty." Echoing James' words only months ago she tells him "I'll never be the same..."  Hazel seems to think that James is better and therefore should not burden himself. James challenges this notion, pointing out that he still struggles. He points out that just as she could see past his wounds, so he can see past hers, despite them being more visible. He admonishes Hazel, telling her that she has no right to ask him to stop loving her. The war has changed them both, but their love has grown to accept those changes.

In the relationship of Aubrey and Colette, Berry explores interracial love, between a black American man and a white French woman, very forbidden in 1918. Such relationships were severely punished during this era. When the American marines learn that Aubrey has been seeing a white woman, he is targeted for death. In a twist of fate, it is his best friend Joey who dies.  Aubrey is shipped out to another city in an effort to save his life. Discouraged and racked with guilt over his friend's death, Aubrey decides to abandon his relationship with Colette but Aphrodite has other plans and will not see her efforts thwarted.

Lovely War is a multi-layered novel that explores the depth and challenges of love, and the unlimited strength of the human spirit. Through her work with Hazel and James, and Colette and Aubrey, Aphrodite demonstrates to her fellow gods how human love, tried in the furnace of conflict, misunderstanding, physical and emotional trauma, can blossom and become an enduring love.

Berry's novel sets these relationships within the turmoil of World War I, although the gods themselves are currently meeting during World War II. The title of the novel,  Lovely War, is taken from a World War I song, "Oh, Its a lovely war" performed by Courtland and Jeffries. It's purpose was support troop moral in the trenches but also to promote the idea that joining the war effort was exciting and fun. Berry's considerable research is evident in the realistic portrayal of war, in this case, the Great War, a conflict that was touted as the war to end all wars. Berry portrays the life of soldiers as they prepare (mostly inadequately) for hand to hand battle, which they never really encountered. Also well portrayed is the physical and psychological trauma of trench warfare as experienced by James Alderidge, and the culture around war in the early 20th century. She also portrays civilian life in England, America and France during this time, the social norms that were common and how women contributed to the war effort. Berry touches on the atrocities of war, mentioning the Dinant massacre by Germans and how this would have effected those like Colette who survived. 1918 saw the beginnings of what was to be come the Jazz Age and Berry's makes mention of soldiers becoming ill, the beginning of the influenza epidemic that kill millions.

Despite this, Lovely War ends on a hopeful note mainly because of the enduring spirit of both Hazel and James, and Colette and Aubrey, who marry and have families. As well Aphrodite begs Hades not to undo her work and to leave their children untouched as they fight in the current war, World War II.

At a whopping 450 + pages, Lovely War is clearly one of the best young adult novels written in the past few years and is not to be missed. Readers will revel in the romance, the detail, and find themselves thoroughly engaged to the finale.

For more information on the Battle of Dinant please see The Capture and Punishment of Dinant, 1914.

 Book Details:

Lovely War by Julie Berry
New York Viking      2019
468 pp

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The Astronaut Who Painted The Moon by Dean Robbins

The Astronaut Who Painted the Moon is about Alan Bean, NASA astronaut who flew on Apollo 12 and who is also know for his artwork portraying his space experiences. In this picture book by Dean Robbins, Bean, after blasting off in a rocket to take him to the moon, reminisces about dreaming about becoming a pilot someday. He took navy flight training and wished he could paint what he saw. In art class, Bean learned about patterns and forms and experimented with bold bright colours. He wanted his art to convey to people how he felt.

Bean's spacecraft took four days to travel the 240,000 miles to the Moon. On the Moon, Bean found it had its own kind of beauty, "Gray dust as far as he could see. Thousands of black craters. Hard white sunlight. And everything perfectly still."

Bean enjoyed his time on the Moon and was puzzled and entranced by its uniqueness and difference to Earth. When he tried to explain what it was like he found words were simply not enough. To convey to friends and family just what it was like, Bean began to paint the Moon and the astronauts. He used unusual colours, stamped them with astronaut boots, even sprinkled dust from his spacesuits on his art! His artwork was appealing and eventually came to be displayed in galleries. Alan Bean had succeeded in conveying to others the stark beauty he experienced on the Moon.

The Astronaut Who Painted The Moon gives young readers an inside look at the remarkable life of Alan Bean, astronaut and painter extraordinaire.

Alan LaVern Bean was born on March 15, 1932 in Wheeler, Texas. Bean attended the University of Texas, where he was a Navy ROTC student, earning a degree in aeronautical engineering. After completing flight training Bean became part of Attack Squadron 44 based at Jacksonville, Florida. In 1960, Bean attended the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School in Maryland. His instructor was Pete Conrad who would later be his commander on Apollo 12. Bean was a test pilot who flew several different types of test aircraft.

Bean missed being selected for the second group of NASA astronauts but was selected in the third group in October of 1963. He was part of the backup crew for Gemini 10 and Apollo 9. On the Apollo 12 mission, Bean was the Lunar Command Module pilot. The launch saw the rocket hit twice by lightning which scrambled the electrical systems but the mission went forward without complications after Bean restored the telemetry system. Apollo 12 with Bean and Pete Conrad landed on the Moon's Ocean of Storms while Dick Gordon remained in the command module orbiting the moon. On November 19, 1969,  Bean was the fourth man to walk on the surface of the Moon.

In 1973, Bean returned to space as the Commander of the second crew to inhabit the Skylab space station built by the Americans. He was also part of the Space Shuttle program, but in the capacity of training astronauts. This gave Bean the time to work a bit on his artistic endeavours. Bean retired from NASA in 1981 and passed away in 2018, the last crew member of Apollo 12.

Bean was overwhelmed by his experience on the Moon's surface. Having taking art courses before he became an astronaut, Bean decided to retire in 1981 and devote his time to painting. He wanted to convey this experiences on the Moon through his art. As a scientist Bean would have had to paint the Moon grey, but as an artist he could consider the use of colour. And that's what he worked on - how to paint the Moon in colours that would work, while still portraying in realistically.

Bean had never seriously considered becoming an artist until a friend suggested he try this after his Skylab mission. He preferred to work in acrylics. What makes Bean's artwork even more interesting and unique is that the base coat of all his paintings contain pieces of the flag or name tag sewn on his space suit, pieces of the Kaplan gold foil from the command module, and even charred pieces from the command module. Readers can learn more about Alan Bean's artistic process at Select Alan Bean - Artist and Astronaut which links to an essay by Ulrich Lotzmann about Bean's NASA career and his technique as an artist.

Artist Sean Rubin attempts to capture Bean's style of painting through his own illustrations in The Astronaut Who Painted The Moon. Rubin uses crosshatching to provide some texture as well as unusual colours such as vibrant purples, reds and blues - colours not found on the Moon, in his illustrations, mimicking to some extent Bean's portrayal of the Moon and the astronauts. The cover which shows Bean painting on the moon, while not realistic (he only painted back on Earth!) conveys how Bean himself viewed his life, " an artist who was once an astronaut."

Robbins includes a short section on Alan Bean along with some of his paintings based on photographs taken during the Moon walks, as well as A Brief History Of Space Exploration in the form of a timeline.

The Astronaut Who Painted The Moon will be of interest to those doing a space unit, those interested in moon exploration and the Apollo program as well as STEAM activities as this book melds both science and art. Well presented and highly recommended.

Book Details:

The Astronaut who Painted The Moon by Dean Robbins
New York: Orchard Books         2019

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

A Place To Belong by Cynthia Kadohata

Twelve-year-old Hanako Tachibana along with her younger brother Akira and her parents is on a gigantic ship travelling from America to Japan. It is 1946, World War II is over. Hanako and her family have spent the last four years imprisoned in various camps, the last one in Tule Lake in Northern California.

After Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii in December of 1941, more than one hundred thousand Nikkei living on the West Coast of America had been sent to various internment camps. Her parents, who had run a restaurant in Little Tokyo in Los Angeles had been caught up in the war and the fear it caused.

First Hanako and her family had been sent to a temporary camp and then to a camp in Jerome, Arkansas.
Now on their way to Japan, Hanako's family will travel to her grandparents farm near the city of Hiroshima.  She and others have heard about the single large bomb dropped on the city

Now on the large ship, Hanako feels overwhelmed. There is no privacy, and the future is unknown. Hanako and her brother and mother are sea-sick for most of the voyage on the open sea. They arrive in Uraga Harbor in Japan on January 12, 1946.  After taking a boat to shore, they get into a truck that takes them to a barracks. The next morning, both Hanako and Akira's luggage has been lost, meaning they have lost their clothes and the extra money their mother had sewn into them.

From the barracks they take a train to Hiroshima. Hanako is shocked at the devastation of the city which has been reduced to piles of rubble. At Hiroshima Station, they leave the train and catch another that takes them her father's parents farm in the country. While in the station, Hanako gives the cakes, called mochigashi that her father purchased to a boy with a pink face and a little girl.

Finally they arrive at her father's parent's home where Hanako and Akira meet their jiichan. Hanako instantly loves her elderly grandfather, wrinkled like a prune who warmly welcomes them and who speaks English. But life in post-war Japan turns out to be terribly hard. With little food, back-breaking labour and a bleak future, Hanako's father learns of a chance for his children to return to America. It will mean yet another separation, but the promise of a real future and a chance to start over.


A Place To Belong is a fictional story based on real life events after World War II. It is about one Japanese American family who, renouncing their American citizenship after spending four years in an internment camp, repatriate back to Japan. Their hope is for a new and better life, but they are mostly unaware of just how devastated Japan is after the war. It is a novel Kadohata had been working on for many years, struggling to figure out how to portray the main character Hanako. It was the real-life story of Yasuko Margie Sakimura that finally helped Kadohata develop her character and story more fully.

Hanako's father, was born in America but lived in Japan from age nine to eighteen. He returned to America to have a better life. Hanako's parents ran a restaurant,  called the Weatherford Chinese & American Cafe. But with the bombing of Pearl Harbor, they lost everything.  Hanako and her family have spent the last four years at the Tule Lake internment camp. This prison was located ten miles south of the town of Tulelake in Modoc County, California.  The camp was opened in 1942 and closed in March of 1946. Tule Lake eventually become the largest War Relocation Camp with a peak population of over eighteen thousand. The camp was plagued by worker strikes over wages. A life-changing loyalty questionnaire was administered to the inmates of Tule Lake. Those who refused to answer the questions or who answered "no" were considered disloyal Americans who could not be trusted and were  Even those who said answered yes but qualified it with the request that their civil rights be restored were considered disloyal.  Those considered disloyal

It is from this background that Hanako and her family have travelled to Japan to begin a new life.Her father, now thirty-five is returning to Japan, a country defeated and devastated by war.  Kadohata portrays the devastation of Japan in a real way. Her characters are not shielded from the poverty, ruin and suffering experienced by the Japanese at the end of the war. For example when Hanako and her family pass through Hiroshima on the train she finds the ruin of the city difficult to comprehend. "Everywhere she looked was chaos --piles and piles of wood and rock and metal. Quite a few single poles and blackened tree trunks stuck up from the ground, and here and there a skeleton of a building rose forlornly. Hanako gasped --the destruction stretched on and one, only seeming to stop at the mountains rising on the horizon...The destruction, though...there was so much of it. It was beyond comprehension--it couldn't possibly be...What she thought was how the city would have been full of people going about their lives before they were burned, flattened, ripped open. There were probably so many ways to die in destruction like this..."

This leads Hanako to wonder if her younger brother could some day drop a bomb on a city that would destroy it in the way that the bomb has destroyed Hiroshima. And in this moment Hanako begins to comprehend the magnitude of the events that were occurring around the world as she and her family were living in the Tule Lake prison camp. "So much more had happened, to other people, not to just her, her family, and the Nikkei imprisoned..."

Seeing the people who have been terribly injured from the bomb as well as those now desperately poor, Hanako realizes that she can relate to these homeless people who have suffered and lost everything. Remembering the pictures her mother saved of refugees from the Dust Bowl in the 1930s, and how she felt a kinship with them even when she was younger, Hanako feels she understands the people who are suffering in Japan. It is this understanding that led her to give her cakes to the pink boy and his sister at the railway station even though she did not know them personally.  "She knew them. She had met them before today." Hanako had seen them before in the people who left their homes in Dust Bowl pictures and in the Nikkei who also had been forced from their homes.

From Jiichan, Hanako learns that she must try to forgive the Americans and that she must "move forward in life..."  He tells her the way to do this is through kintsukuroi, the belief that change, adversity and loss are a part of life and can make a person stronger and more beautiful. To express this to his grandaughter, jiichan tells her about a neighbour who gave him two bowls, one damaged and one undamaged. The damaged bowl, once broken was mended with lacquer and the lacquer painted gold. Jiichan tells her, "So you see, in the end, the bowl  end up more beautiful than before it was broken. This is kintsukuroi. Thing break, you must fix with gold. It is the only way to live your life. .."

As months pass and Hanako and her family struggle to survive and watch as those around them struggle as well it becomes apparent that there is no future in Japan for Hanako and Akira. Hanako's father explains that he has learned about an American lawyer, Mr. Collins, who is helping the Japanese reclaim their American citizenship as he believes it was renounced under duress. Hanako's father has decided to send Hanako and Akira back to America where he has heard Nikkei are rebuilding their lives. This causes Hanako intense conflict as she has become very devoted to her grandparents while at the same time not wanting the life that she will likely have in Japan. However, part of kintsukuroi is accepting change as inevitable. Remembering a time when she was lost in Tule Lake, Hanako reasons, "Maybe sometimes you just had to go out into the world and trust what would happen. You had to trust that there were good people in the world. Like Mr. Collins...This was life. This, she knew, was also kintsukuroi. Putting broken things back together with gold."

A Place To Belong is well-written and filled with nuggets of wisdom for young readers about the realities of life. The novel's title is a reference to Hanako and her family's struggle to find a place to belong. Not quite Japanese and yet not considered American, Hanako must find her place in the world. Hanako is a wonderfully crafted character, at times thoughtful, intelligent and mature beyond her years and at other times like the child she is, overwhelmed by the events in her life. It is touching to see how Hanako sacrifices not only for her family but also for complete strangers.

A Place To Belong is without a doubt, Kadohata's best novel to date and clearly was written from the heart.  Illustrated with simple, line drawings.  Highly recommended.

For more information, readers are directed to the Densho Encyclopedia entry for Tule Lake.

Book Details:

A Place To Belong by Cynthia Kadohata
New York: Atheneum, A Caitlyn Dlouhy Book    2019
405 pp.