Injustices of the WWII incarceration, as told to kids




By Loriene Honda; artwork by Jimmy Mirikitani (Dixon, Calif.: Martin Pearl Publishing, 2014, 40 pp; $17.99; hardcover)

Jimmy Mirikitani’s art is luminous in Loriene Honda’s remarkable book, “The Cat Who Chose to Dream.”

Our young hero, Jimmy the cat, lives in a prison camp with his Japanese American family. They were forcibly removed from their home by the United States government. They were innocent people held in “a dirty place after leaving a beautiful home that was filled with light and love, joy and laughter.”

Jimmy the cat does not believe those who say the camp is for their own protection. He asks, “… then why are the guards’ guns pointed directly at us?” He feels “lost and overwhelmed” by the unjust incarceration.

As the book unfolds, young Jimmy copes with feelings of anger and sadness. First, he realizes it is OK to feel “anger, frustration, shame and sadness.” Then he tries to find peace. He visualizes himself in a safe place, free of the barbed wire camp. He takes slow, deep breaths. He tells himself that although “Others may have the power to shackle my body, I always hold the power to free my mind.”

In his empowering daydreams, he becomes a ferocious dragon “shielding his family from the pain they had experienced for too long.” He imagines himself a snow tiger who could “explore new territory … keeping anyone who doubted his strength at a distance with his piercing glare.”

Years later, when Jimmy was no longer a young cat, he continued to dream of the prison camp. The dreams were both “haunting and reassuring” because they reminded him that “he could grow from his most painful memories.” The story ends with Jimmy the cat, fully grown, looking happily at his baby.

The historical perspective included at the end of the story provides a valuable explanation of the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans.

The next page tells about the art of Jimmy Mirikitani, the subject of Linda Hattendorf’s documentary, “The Cats of Mirikitani.” Mirikitani was incarcerated in Tule Lake, Calif. His drawings include images of the prison camp. Mirikitani so inspired author

Honda that she asked for and received his permission to reproduce his work with her story. Sadly, Mirikitani passed away in 2012. At the end of the book it is noted that some of Mirikitani’s drawings were cropped or altered slightly to illustrate themes in the book. The original, unmodified images are then reproduced in the following pages.

Honda is a Davis, Calif. licensed psychologist for children and adolescents. Her father was incarcerated in Manzanar, Calif. during World War II. It is easy to see how this book combines her interest in her own family history and her work as a therapist helping youth deal with trauma. I am impressed with how Honda is able to use Mirikitani’s drawings with her story. So seamlessly are they knit that one could imagine that Mirikitani drew them for her story, when actually the reverse is true.

Discussion topics are included in the book. Lesson plans aligned to Common Core State Standards are available. A Therapeutic Discussion Guide is also available.

Ask your local bookstore to order this book for you. You won’t be sorry you did.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *