My parents taught me moral behavior that included kindness, charity, avoidance of slander and gossip. So I always felt funny when the “yellow peril” issue came up. They avoided explaining it fully, but I knew their feelings were strong in a negative way. We would sit in front of John Wayne WWII movies on Sunday afternoons in winter, and a lot of murmuring and low grumbles lingered in the corners of the living room while the Duke annihilated the “Japs”.I was an adult before I began to truly understand their feelings. They were 12 and 14 when Pearl Harbor was bombed, a ripe age for forming hatred of an enemy. The publicity, bond sales, and movies all planted fear and hatred, but that was necessary in the name of patriotism at the time. But it lingered far longer than the war for people that were mere children of that era.
I was not born until the 40’s were almost gone, yet I love the era despite the war being the dominate feature of the decade. I love the hats, the gloves, and those platform shoes. I tap my toes quickly to the music of swing. I am proud when I think of a generation of farm boys and country girls who not only took to the air and ruled, but of their work on the ground in conceiving, designing, and building those wonderful Flying Fortresses in the middle of former wheat fields.I read Kristina McMorris’s first book Letters from Home set in the WWII era. I loved all the 1940 details and the author made me feel right back there in time. When I heard another book was on the way, I waited impatiently. Bridge of Scarlet Leaves arrived last week during those five rainy days! Perfect timing because I put on the kettle, brewed up some Irish Breakfast and read until dark. In her second novel McMorris stayed in the war years, but told the story from the eyes of Japanese Americans and the people who both feared them and loved them as well. Her own deep research allows her to write a powerful story, and her being half Japanese herself gives the story more punch.
I think Bridge of Scarlet Leaves should be required reading at the high school level. There are so many chapters and scenes in this book that could be used for rousing discussions of how people treat other people. The definitions of integrity, prejudices, fear, and forming hate could be bounced around a classroom, and under the guise of studying WWII or Japanese internment camps, students could look at some heavier issues like bullying, gossip, and defining what it means to belong to a community.If you need a good read, grab a copy of McMorris’s newest book. You won’t be disappointed. I am anxious to share it with my good friend who was a school librarian. She is half Japanese, and I know we will have lots to talk about from this book!