A Visit to Manzanar

So Far From the SeaBunting, E. (2009). So far from the sea (C. Soentpiet, Illustrator). New York: Clarion Books.

Description: The Iwasaki family is moving from California to Boston. Before leaving, they take one last visit to Manzanar, the camp where ten thousand Japanese Americans were interned during World War II. Told through the eyes of Laura, a young Japanese American girl, the reader learns how Laura’s father spent much of his childhood in the camp and how his own father—the narrator’s grandfather—died there. Beautifully illustrated, the story jumps from the present-day deserted camp to somber black-and-white depictions of life there during the war.

Quantitative Reading Level: Lexile Level 590L; ATOS Book Level 3.4

Qualitative Reading Level: Even though this book is written with younger readers in mind, its content is perfectly appropriate for middle grades, including 6th, 7th, and 8th-grade readers, many of whom will be interested to learn more about the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. The factual information is given in narrative form through the eyes a young girl who has heard many stories from her father about life at the camp. The afterword supplies four short paragraphs with background information about Manzanar. The illustrations are striking, with painted in full color for present day events and black and white to signify the past. The Iwasaki family is visiting the grandfather’s grave and while the mood is serious, it isn’t gloomy or depressing. The protagonist, Laura, leaves a symbolic gift for her grandfather: The scarf from her father’s Boy Scout uniform. As the scarf floats away, the reader is left admiring the resilience of the human spirit.

Themes: Family, Resilience, Bias and Stereotyping, Multiple Perspectives, Patriotism

Content Areas: U.S. history / English language arts

Teaching Suggestions:

  • Pair So Far from the Sea with the memoir Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston.
  • Note how the author uses flashbacks in the narrative. Discuss why the author made this choice. In addition, note differences style and colors of the illustrations to help readers “see” the past.
  • Discuss the symbolism of the Boy Scout scarf and the silk flowers on the grandfather’s grave.
  • Research the historical situation leading to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.
  • Read “A Date that Will Live in Infamy,” Franklin D. Roosevelt’s War Address from 1941
  • Read and discuss the original Executive Order 9066: Resulting in the Relocation of Japanese Americans
  • Watch the movie version of Farewell to Manzanar. Compare Houston’s journey to the Iwasakis’s story.
  • Analyze Ansel Adams’s photographs of Manzanar. Try the Visible Thinking protocol from Harvard’s Project Zero: I see…I think… I wonder…


Common Core State Standards:

Explain how specific aspects of a text’s illustrations contribute to what is conveyed by the words in a story (e.g., create mood, emphasize aspects of a character or setting)
Describe in depth a character, setting, or event in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., a character’s thoughts, words, or actions).
Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text, including how characters in a story or drama respond to challenges or how the speaker in a poem reflects upon a topic; summarize the text.
Explain how an author develops the point of view of the narrator or speaker in a text.

Compare and contrast the information gained from experiments, simulations, video, or multimedia sources with that gained from reading a text on the same topic.

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