The best Japanese internment books

1 authors have picked their favorite books about Japanese internment and why they recommend each book.

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What Did the Internment of Japanese Americans Mean?

By Alice Yang Murray,

Book cover of What Did the Internment of Japanese Americans Mean?

The title says it all: This is a book if you want to dig a little deeper into what incarceration meant and means for all Americans. Featuring different, shorter essays by leading scholars on the Japanese American experience during the war, I love this book for its collection of insights from different historians who approach the topic in their own, distinct ways. If you’re short on time and want a quick read on the many angles on incarceration from motivations to experiences to the movement for a formal apology from the US government, this is one to check out.


Who am I?

Growing up in central Pennsylvania, I learned little about Japanese American incarceration beyond the brief mention in textbooks. It wasn’t until I came across documents about incarceration camps in Arkansas that I wanted to learn more and spent the next five years exploring this subject. What I took away from my research is that even though confinement in camps only directly affected Japanese Americans, understanding how this tragedy happened is important for all Americans who value democracy. I’m a Senior Historian at the National WWII Museum and work hard to make sure that Japanese American incarceration is included in the larger history of the American home front during the war.


I wrote...

Japanese American Incarceration: The Camps and Coerced Labor During World War II

By Stephanie Hinnershitz,

Book cover of Japanese American Incarceration: The Camps and Coerced Labor During World War II

What is my book about?

Between 1942 and 1945, the U.S. government wrongfully imprisoned nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans and profited from their labor. 

Following Franklin Roosevelt's 1942 Executive Order 9066, which called for the exclusion of potentially dangerous groups from military zones along the West Coast, the federal government placed Japanese Americans in makeshift prisons throughout the country. In addition to working on day-to-day operations of the camps, Japanese Americans were coerced into harvesting crops, digging irrigation ditches, paving roads, and building barracks for little to no compensation and often at the behest of privately run businesses—all in the name of national security.

Prisoners Without Trial

By Roger Daniels,

Book cover of Prisoners Without Trial: Japanese Americans in World War II

This book is a classic and of the first that I read on the subject. It’s a concise introduction to this shameful moment in America’s WWII era history that carefully explains how decades of anti-Japanese sentiment along the West Coast reached a peak following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. But Daniels also provides in-depth detail on what life was like for Japanese Americans who spent some of if not most of their time during the war behind barbed wire and how they struggled to return to “normal” when released from the camps. Most importantly, the book has a compelling concluding chapter that asks its readers, “Could this happen again?” Daniels doesn’t give an answer but encourages us to read more and think about the legacy of incarceration.


Who am I?

Growing up in central Pennsylvania, I learned little about Japanese American incarceration beyond the brief mention in textbooks. It wasn’t until I came across documents about incarceration camps in Arkansas that I wanted to learn more and spent the next five years exploring this subject. What I took away from my research is that even though confinement in camps only directly affected Japanese Americans, understanding how this tragedy happened is important for all Americans who value democracy. I’m a Senior Historian at the National WWII Museum and work hard to make sure that Japanese American incarceration is included in the larger history of the American home front during the war.


I wrote...

Japanese American Incarceration: The Camps and Coerced Labor During World War II

By Stephanie Hinnershitz,

Book cover of Japanese American Incarceration: The Camps and Coerced Labor During World War II

What is my book about?

Between 1942 and 1945, the U.S. government wrongfully imprisoned nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans and profited from their labor. 

Following Franklin Roosevelt's 1942 Executive Order 9066, which called for the exclusion of potentially dangerous groups from military zones along the West Coast, the federal government placed Japanese Americans in makeshift prisons throughout the country. In addition to working on day-to-day operations of the camps, Japanese Americans were coerced into harvesting crops, digging irrigation ditches, paving roads, and building barracks for little to no compensation and often at the behest of privately run businesses—all in the name of national security.

Justice Delayed

By Peter Irons,

Book cover of Justice Delayed: The Record of the Japanese American Internment Cases

Peter Irons, at attorney, investigated the incarceration of US citizens of Japanese descent during World War II. He became so upset that he devoted his own legal career to securing a rare Supreme Court reversal of its infamous Korematsu decision. This book tells that story.


Who am I?

I’ve devoted my academic career and personal life to the limits and possibilities of white liberal approaches to civil rights reform. Trained in U.S. history and published in American Jewish history, I look closely at how ethnic groups and religious minorities interact with their racial and gender status to create a sometimes-surprising perspective on both history and our current day. At times powerful and at other times powerless, Jews (and other white ethnics) navigate a complex course in civil rights advocacy.


I wrote...

Black Power, Jewish Politics: Reinventing the Alliance in the 1960s

By Marc Dollinger,

Book cover of Black Power, Jewish Politics: Reinventing the Alliance in the 1960s

What is my book about?

While many American Jews reflect on the civil rights movement as a time of unparalleled solidarity and blame the break-up of the alliance between white Jews and Blacks on the rise of Black militancy, this book offers a new, deeper, and more complex understanding of race relations in that era. During the 1950s, white male Jewish leaders actually supported the Nation of Islam, an antisemitic organization. In the mid-1960s, many Jews lauded the rise of Black Power, celebrating its successes. By the 1970s, Jewish organizations copied Black Power strategies to strengthen American Jewish identity.

Baseball Saved Us

By Ken Mochizuki, Dom Lee (illustrator),

Book cover of Baseball Saved Us

It’s been a few years since I shared this picture book with young readers, but I still remember the questions. A terrific discussion starter about immigration, Japanese culture, how we treat our fellow citizens and so much more, this beautifully-illustrated book made me curious about the internment camps. Like so many good stories, it sent me digging for more.


Who am I?

I grew up in the South where stories float off front porches like fireflies. My family was made up of storytellers! As an adult and especially as a librarian and a writer of middle-grade novels, I love rooting out history readers might not know: how swimming pools closed rather than integrate, that the Vietnam War scarred many returning vets, and why so many Chinese families settled in the Deep South. My favorite books to read and to share are novels and picture books about more than what they seem— especially those that weave history into a compelling story. And I have great memories of watching and listening to baseball games with my dad. Historical fiction and baseball—a perfect combination, very close to a grand slam, no?


I wrote...

The Way to Stay in Destiny

By Augusta Scattergood,

Book cover of The Way to Stay in Destiny

What is my book about?

When Theo steps off the bus in Destiny, Florida, he’s left so much behind. Now he'll live with Uncle Raymond, a Vietnam vet who wants nothing to do with this long-lost nephew. Thank goodness for Miss Sister’s Rooming House and Dance School. Her piano calls to Theo, who can't wait to play those ivory keys. Soon feisty baseball fanatic Anabel invites Theo on her quest to uncover the town's connection to old-time ballplayers, including his favorite, Henry Aaron, and he’s found a friend.

A story with unforgettable characters, humor, and hard questions about loss, family, and belonging, this middle-grade novel celebrates baseball, piano, and small-town living in the wake of the Vietnam War. 

Displacement

By Kiku Hughes,

Book cover of Displacement

This book depicts the complexities of generational trauma. Kiku, our protagonist, discovers that she can go back in time and experience what her ancestors went through during the second world war. Kiku Hughes dives into the daily lives of citizens living in Japanese internment camps. It’s a brave look at the complicated relationship a person can have with the place they live in, given the difficulties their ancestries have gone through. Also, Kiku Hughes is an amazing illustrator. The bulk of the storytelling is through her depictions of the United States throughout different decades. 


Who am I?

Coming-of-age stories have always appealed to me because of their focus on an internal struggle. They’re usually juxtaposed with a changing landscape or moving to a new place. In broad strokes, coming-of-age stories focus on personal identity and our place in our day-to-day world. As someone who’s born in the US but grew up on the Mexican side but currently lives in California, the questions of what aspects of me are American and which are Mexican have been ongoing. With that in mind, these five books speak to me in a profound way, and I'm happy they exist as comics. 


I wrote...

Twin Cities

By José Pimienta,

Book cover of Twin Cities

What is my book about?

Twin Cities is a thoughtful and sweet look at two siblings growing apart as they continue their education on the different sides of the Mexico-US border. While Teresa adjusts to school in a foreign language, Fernando discovers that middle school in Mexico is a completely different place than elementary school. 

We Are Not Free

By Traci Chee,

Book cover of We Are Not Free

Told from multiple points of view, this story details the horrific internment of fourteen Japanese American teenagers and their families during the height of World War II. The history of Japanese internment camps is often glazed over in Social Studies classes in favor of celebrating America’s successes in the war, but I was taken by Traci’s unflinching portrait of the teenagers’ lives and choices as they grapple with how to be Asian American in a world that refuses to acknowledge their citizenship and identities. 


Who am I?

E. L. Shen is a writer and editor living in New York City. Her debut middle-grade novel, The Comeback (Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers) is a Junior Library Guild Selection, received two starred reviews, and was praised for its “fast-paced prose, big emotions, and authentic dialogue” in The New York Times. Her forthcoming young adult novel, The Queens of New York (Quill Tree Books) was won in a six-figure preempt and is scheduled to publish in Summer 2023.  


I wrote...

The Comeback: A Figure Skating Novel

By E.L. Shen,

Book cover of The Comeback: A Figure Skating Novel

What is my book about?

In this debut middle-grade novel, twelve-year-old Maxine Chen is just trying to nail that perfect landing: on the ice, in middle school, and at home, where her parents worry that competitive skating is too much pressure for a budding tween. Maxine isn’t concerned, however—she’s determined to glide to victory. But then a bully at school starts teasing Maxine for her Chinese heritage, leaving her stunned and speechless. And at the rink, she finds herself up against a stellar new skater named Hollie, whose grace and skill threaten to edge Maxine out of the competition. With everything she knows on uneven ice, will Maxine crash under the pressure? Or can she power her way to a comeback?

When Can We Go Back to America? Voices of Japanese American Incarceration During WWII

By Susan H. Kamei,

Book cover of When Can We Go Back to America? Voices of Japanese American Incarceration During WWII

If you want to delve into first-hand accounts of what life was like in the incarceration camps, you’ll find a lot of books for that, but you could be overwhelmed in the process. What I like about Kamei’s recent book is that it is a handy compilation of over a hundred engaging, heartbreaking, and inspiring descriptions of incarceration from those who directly experienced and fought against the prejudice that created it. Best of all, you can use this book as a jumping-off point for learning more about any of the individuals you encounter here. 


Who am I?

Growing up in central Pennsylvania, I learned little about Japanese American incarceration beyond the brief mention in textbooks. It wasn’t until I came across documents about incarceration camps in Arkansas that I wanted to learn more and spent the next five years exploring this subject. What I took away from my research is that even though confinement in camps only directly affected Japanese Americans, understanding how this tragedy happened is important for all Americans who value democracy. I’m a Senior Historian at the National WWII Museum and work hard to make sure that Japanese American incarceration is included in the larger history of the American home front during the war.


I wrote...

Japanese American Incarceration: The Camps and Coerced Labor During World War II

By Stephanie Hinnershitz,

Book cover of Japanese American Incarceration: The Camps and Coerced Labor During World War II

What is my book about?

Between 1942 and 1945, the U.S. government wrongfully imprisoned nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans and profited from their labor. 

Following Franklin Roosevelt's 1942 Executive Order 9066, which called for the exclusion of potentially dangerous groups from military zones along the West Coast, the federal government placed Japanese Americans in makeshift prisons throughout the country. In addition to working on day-to-day operations of the camps, Japanese Americans were coerced into harvesting crops, digging irrigation ditches, paving roads, and building barracks for little to no compensation and often at the behest of privately run businesses—all in the name of national security.

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