I am going to miss you a great deal, as you must know. You have been one of my restorers-of-faith in the human spirit. I know that you will keep your courage and humor in the weeks and days that lie ahead, no matter what they may bring. ....
Clara E. Breed"
About four months after the Japanese air attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, the War Relocation Authority (WRA) began moving all people of Japanese descent out of the Pacific states. For months newspaper columnists and racist organization leaders had been arguing that "Japs," naturally loyal to the Emperor they insisted, were a danger to our country as spies and saboteurs. From the outcry, most Americans would never learn until long after the war that most of the people imprisoned without any legal hearings were American citizens, second and third generation Japanese Americans, born in the United States. According to Joanne Oppenheim in Dear Miss Breed, no case of espionage was ever filed against any of the prisoners.
Few people stood up for the civil rights of the Japanese Americans. One who did was Clara E. Breed, the children's librarian at the San Diego Public Library. When their families began being removed from their homes and businesses, Breed distributed stamped postcards with her address to the children, asking that they send them back to her with their new addresses. She promised to send them books, magazines, and assorted items to help them in their new lives. As a result, Breed maintained dozens of correspondences throughout the war.
Breed also went public. She wrote articles on the children that were published in Library Journal and Horn Book, which garnered donations from other librarians nationwide. As a member of the the Newbery-Caldecott Committee of the American Library Association, she also received hundreds of review copies of books, most of which were sent to children in the concentration camps.
As Breed would have liked, Oppenheim concentrates on the children in this book. Most spent a couple of years at first the Santa Anita racetrack in California (living in smelly stables) and then in the extreme desert heat of Poston, Arizona. She used the letters that they sent to Breed, testimony at Congressional hearings, and interviews for much of her content. Sadly, she has only located one surviving letter written by Breed to the children. Several of her children do, however, still have the books that she sent to them.
Dear Miss Breed is an attractive book, which includes photos of and art from the children. It should attract many readers in school and public libraries. Currently most public libraries have it in their children's or teen collections, which I support, but they also need to put copies where adults will find them. Older folks should not miss out on this fine book.
Oppenheim, Joanne. Dear Miss Breed: True Stories of the Japanese American Incarceration During World War II and a Librarian Who Made a Difference. Scholastic Nonfiction, 2006. ISBN 0439569923