Today is Day of Remembrance. On this day, February 19, in 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law Executive Order 9066, which paved the way for the mass incarceration of people of Japanese ancestry in World War II. This morning, I’d like to share some of my memories of learning more about the incarceration with you:
1. Tule Lake Segregation Center (2019): This was the third incarceration site I ever visited, on the California/Oregon border. Although much of the site has been lost to modern development, some of the original buildings, barbed wire fencing, and the jail (under the awning in the photo), built in 1945, remain.
2. Tulelake-Butte Valley Fairgrounds (2019): Near the former incarceration site at Tule Lake is a museum at the Tulelake-Butte Valley Fairgrounds. The museum is fairly small, but most striking to me was seeing one of the original guard towers in the yard. My step-grandparents were imprisoned at Tule Lake—I can’t help wondering if this was one of the guard towers they passed every day, on their way to the mess hall or to school.
3. Central Utah Relocation Center, also known as Topaz (2007): My mom and aunt took me on my first pilgrimage to Topaz back in 2007. This is me standing in the site of my grandpa’s old barracks. This was where he lived. For three years, with these strange horizons, behind barbed wire, this was where he lived. Photo by Kats Kitagawa.
4. Central Utah Relocation Center, also known as Topaz (c. 1942-1945): This is my grandpa and his family at the very same barracks during the incarceration. Because most cameras were confiscated after the attack on Pearl Harbor, we don’t have a lot of photographs from inside the camps, but there are a few, and they are precious—glimpses of these hard years, these injustices. I haven’t forgotten, family. I hope we never forget.
I just wanted to say thank you for all the love & support you’ve given WE ARE NOT FREE, through its nomination as a National Book Award Finalist, Walter Award Honoree & now Printz Honor Book. It means so much that the book has garnered this attention, not just for me, but for the fact that the Japanese American incarceration really happened, recently, to real people. I’ve heard from readers who’ve said that prior to reading WE ARE NOT FREE, they didn’t know about this chapter of American history, or they knew about it only superficially, and if these accolades mean that WE ARE NOT FREE reaches even more people and continues to help deepen our understanding of racial injustice and specifically anti-Asian sentiment in this country, then… wow. I don’t think I could ask for higher honors than that.
Since I got the news, I’ve been trying to figure out how to express the joy & gratitude & expansiveness that I feel, and what I’ve finally come to is where it all began. With family. In 1942, following the attack on Pearl Harbor, my Japanese American family was incarcerated for crimes they didn’t & would never commit. They lived behind barbed wire for three years. They fought for this country. They protested for this country. They didn’t speak about it for years, at least not to me, but I am so grateful that they finally did, whether it was over a cup of tea at the kitchen table or through their memoirs or in their letters.
WE ARE NOT FREE is fictional, but so much of this book is inspired by my family that to me, they are intertwined. Any honors I receive are more ways to honor my family. Any attention the book gets is more attention on their experiences. To me, an award doesn’t just say, “We see you.” It says, “We see what your family went through, what all these people went through, and we think it is valuable and important and worth remembering.”
So, readers, thank you for that. Thank you for recognizing this part of American history. Thank you for seeing it. Thank you for remembering.
And to my Nisei family, even though so many of you are gone now, I hope you know that this is for you. This has always been for you. I love you, and I hope I've done you proud.
Buy WE ARE NOT FREE here. See the full list of ALA Youth Media Award winners and honorees here.
AAAAAHHHH!!! 🎉 WE ARE NOT FREE is a Printz Honor Book!!! Thank you to YALSA & the judging committee, and HUGE CONGRATULATIONS all around!!!
WE ARE NOT FREE is a 2021 Walter Honoree!!! 🎉 Established in 2016, the Walter Dean Myers Award celebrates diversity in children’s literature in two categories, Teens and Younger Readers, and I am just so blown away that this year’s judging committee chose We Are Not Free as one of their honor books! ✨ We Need Diverse Books does such incredible work promoting inclusive literature, creating opportunities for marginalized creators, and building a more equitable industry, so this is such a huge, huge honor. 🌸 Thank you so much to WNDB and the judges, and congratulations to the winners and my fellow honorees!
Winner, Teen Category: PUNCHING THE AIR by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam (illus. by Omar T. Pasha)
Honors, Teen Category: WE ARE NOT FREE by Traci Chee, ALMOST AMERICAN GIRL by Robin Ha
Winner, Younger Readers Category: WHEN STARS ARE SCATTERED by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed (color by Iman Geddy)
Honors, Younger Readers Category: KING AND THE DRAGONFLIES by Kacen Callender, EVERYTHING SAD IS UNTRUE by Daniel Nayeri
This means I also have the pleasure of taking part in the We Need Diverse Books sixth annual Symposium on diversity in children's literature, co-hosted by the Library of Congress. From WNDB: The Symposium, titled “Listening, Learning, Creating Communities,” will be moderated by Deborah D. Taylor, Coretta Scott King/Virginia Hamilton Lifetime Achievement award-winning librarian and educator, and will include panelists Traci Chee, Robin Ha, Daniel Nayeri, and Kacen Callender.
The Symposium will be held on Friday, March 12, 2021, followed by the Walter Dean Myers Awards for Outstanding Children’s Literature Ceremony. The Symposium and Ceremony will be held virtually. Award-winning author Laurie Halse Anderson will serve as Ceremony’s Emcee. The event will begin at 1:00 PM EST and will appear on the Library’s Facebook page and its YouTube site.
YALSA has named the WE ARE NOT FREE audiobook one of their Top Ten 2021 Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults! ⭐️ I absolutely adore this audiobook and it’s amazing cast of narrators, including Dan Woren, Scott Keiji Takeda, Ryan Potter, Ali Fumiko, Sophie Oda, Andrew Kishino, Christopher Naoki Lee, Grace Rolek, Erika Ishii, Brittany Ishibashi, Kurt Sanchez Kanazawa, and Terry Kitagawa! 💙 Congratulations to this incredible cast and thank you again for bringing these stories to life!
One week from today, I’ll be participating in BookUp@Home, which connects authors with middle and high school students at over a dozen different sites in New York City, Detroit, Los Angeles, Greensboro, NC, and Huntsville, TX! Registration is free and open to students, so register here! The event kicks off on Wednesday, January 20 at 4pm ET/1pm PT—hope to see you there!
Happy holidays to me! 🎄 This is the first time I’ve seen WE ARE NOT FREE with the National Book Award Finalist sticker in person, and it is so beautiful!!! 😭😭😭
Want to know how I wove four storylines into The Reader? Or how I plotted We Are Not Free with fourteen main characters? I’m doing a one-hour workshop on Saturday, January 16 at 1pm PT, and we’re going to be talking about How I Plot with the Hero’s Journey!
📣 This workshop is part of the Try My Process series with Parker Peevyhouse (Strange Exit, The Echo Room), who’s brought in a bunch of guest authors to share and discuss their approaches to writing.
Sign up here for four Saturday workshops in January or get EIGHT workshops for both January AND February! 📣 Hurry--less than two weeks to register! Hope to see you there!
Good morning!!! ☀️ So excited to share that Apple Books chose WE ARE NOT FREE in their Best Books of the Year! Check it out here!
Wow! WE ARE NOT FREE made Book Riot's Best Books of 2020! There are so many amazing reads on this list--so thrilled to be in their company! Check out the full list for tons of great recommendations!