On a very cold and dreary Saturday morning, the children’s section at Herrick District Library couldn’t have been more full of energy and warmth. Amy Lee-Tai, author of A Place Where Sunflowers Grow, came to delight an audience of almost 100 people with her children’s book inspired by her family’s experience in a Japanese internment camp during WWII. Amy is a reading specialist turned children’s book author from New York, and it was her love of picture books and their ability to show that the world is good that made her write this one.
Amy started her book reading with a small history – personal and global – of WWII and the internment camps. She showed many pictures of her family, and one that especially tugged at my heart was a picture of her grandmother and mother on evacuation day, which was the day the Japanese Americans were pulled from their homes to go the camps. Lee-Tai explained to the children present that the internment camps were much different than the summer camps that they are familiar to. She concluded her history with this question: “What do you love to do?” This idea plays an important role in her book.
Then, the reading started. The book A Place Where Sunflowers Grow is about Mari and her family, a Japanese-American family, who are forced to live at a camp in Utah. Mari is enrolled in an art class, but she can’t figure out what to draw. Her teacher gives her the advice to draw what she loves, and suddenly, Mari finds life at the camp just a bit more bearable. She makes friends and draws about her life, and she realizes that doing what you love – in her case is drawing – turns a bad situation into something better. This was unlike any other book reading I had been to – the pictures were projected onto the screen so that the audience had a great view. All of the people who came, ranging from preschoolers to adults, were captured by the powerful message that came from this children’s book.
The advice that Mari gets carries strongly into the real world, and it is something that we all can use to see the beauty in everything. Lee-Tai concluded her reading with a message of hope: do what you love, and you will make the world a better place.
Contributed by Emma Jones. Emma is a student at Hope College.