Two books set during World War War II: One takes place in California and Arizona; the other book is set on the other side of the country in North Carolina. Sumiko is twelve years old and lives with her aunt and uncle and cousins on a flower farm; Anna Fay is thirteen and has become “the man of the house” since her daddy’s gone to fight in the war. Both girls are typical older children, responsible, obligated to grow up fast and take care of younger brothers and sisters. Both girls use gardening as a way to work through their problems and challenges. And each must face her own war, her own imprisonment, and her own fight against ignorance and prejudice.
Sumiko, heroine of Weedflower, is a Japanese-American girl; her parents are dead, and she faces prejudice against “orientals” from the beginning of the story when she is dis-invited to a birthday party for a girl in her class. The challenges only get worse after the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor and all the residents of Japanese descent on the West Coast are gathered and sent to internment camps. Sumiko, her aunt, her two older cousins, and her little brother are sent to Poston in Arizona. There Sumiko must learn to survive and even overcome the heat, the dust, the hostility of neighbors, and even the threat of succumbing to “the ultimate boredom.” The latter is her grandfather’s term for the temptation to give up, to lose your dreams, to surrender hope, a temptation that Sumiko must face and defeat if she is to win her war.
Anna Fay, the main character in Blue has a battle to fight, too. A polio epidemic has invaded western North Carolina in 1944, and Anna Fay’s little brother Bobby falls victim to the dread disease. Later in the story, Anna Fay herself must battle polio, even as she worries about her daddy fighting Hitler in Europe and about whether her family will ever be together again. Anna Fay is trapped in the polio hospital just as Sumiko is trapped in the internment camp, and Anna Fay faces boredom and prejudice, too. The discrimination comes when Anna Fay becomes friends with a “colored girl” who also has polio, but the two girls can’t convince anyone that they should be allowed to share a hospital ward as well as a friendship.
I thought both of these books were excellently well-written. Blue goes for the tear-jerker, drama reaction; the writing in Weedflower is a little more restrained. Sumiko is the stereotypical Japanese, determined to keep her emotions under control and her tears hidden; Anna Fay is comforted by her friend’s word picture of a God who saves each person’s tears in a bottle on a heavenly window-sill. (Anna Fay’s bottle is blue.) Each girl compares herself to a flower: Sumiko is a weedflower, a flower of the field that is both beautiful and resilient; Anna Fay is sometimes as fragile as a mimosa blossom and other times as tough as wisteria.
These books would work well, paired, in a unit study on World War II to give students a good picture of different aspects of the time period. Other World War II books for girls:
Denenberg, Barry. Early Sunday Morning: The Pearl Harbor Diary of Amber Billows, Hawaii, 1941.
Denenberg, Barry. One Eye Laughing, The Other Weeping: The Diary of Julie Weiss, Vienna, Austria to New York, 1938.
Greene, Betty. Summer of my German Soldier.
Osborne, Mary Pope. My Secret War: The World War II Diary of Madeline Beck, Long Island, New York, 1941.
Rinaldi, Ann. Keep Smiling Through.
Weedflower and Blue also have another thing in common; both books are nominated for the Cybil Award for Middle Grade Fiction.