________________ CM . . . . Volume XI Number 21 . . . .June 24, 2005


Naomi's Road.

Joy Kogawa. Illustrated by Ruth Ohi.
Markham, ON: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 1986/2005.
120 pp., pbk., $9.95.
ISBN 1-55005-115-6.

Subject Heading:
Japanese Canadians-Evacuation and relocation, 1942-1945-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.

Review by Reesa Cohen.

**** /4



"Be good Children. Study Hard. Listen to Obasan. Say your prayers every day."

That's the last thing Daddy says to the children before he goes away. And then one day Obasan says they are going away, too.

"Where are we going?" Stephen asks.

"On a holiday," Obasan says. "Imagine! Mountains! And a train!"

"Are we going for a long time?"

"Perhaps," Obasan says.

"Is Aunt Emily coming too? And Grandpa? And how about Grandma and Grandpa Nakane?"

"No. Just us. It's our holiday," Obasan says.

"We're going on a holiday! We're going on a holiday!" Naomi sings to her doll.

But on the day they leave, the doll is afraid. She doesn't like the crowding and the noise at the train station. "Don't be scared," Naomi whispers to the doll. The small children are holding their mothers' hands and legs and skirts. Some are holding their own dolls.

None of the children from Naomi's street are here. The children from Stephen's school are not here either. Only lots and lots of Japanese-Canadian children.


This new edition of Naomi's Road, first published in 1986, is based on an expanded version from the author's adult book, Obasan. How fortunate that a whole new generation of young readers will learn through Naomi, the narrator of this touching story, what life was like for Japanese-Canadians during W.W.II. Kogawa's own experiences during this time lend a note of authenticity to this simple, but powerful story.

     The book starts out in a engaging way, focusing on the interactions between a warm extended family. Japanese culture, traditions and vocabulary are charmingly revealed along with this family's favourite things to do, favourite times and stories. Early into the story, the symbolism of the "road" in the title and its role as a road of learning is disclosed. "We all learn what our road is someday."

     Although written in a simple child-like text, the story still manages to be told in an evocative and poignant way, showcasing Naomi's sadness in missing her mother who, just as war breaks out, returns to Japan to help an ailing relative. Removed from their home, Naomi and her brother are sent to an internment camp and then to an Alberta farm. Naomi's fear and her turmoil at her family's being separated and torn apart is heartbreaking. A child's feelings of confusion regarding war and all its injustice and ramifications are done with simplicity and sensitivity.

     It is through her eyes that we experience a dark moment in our country's past. But in the end, the importance of family, friendship and hope rings clear. In this delicately written and gentle story, these characters are clearly drawn, sympathetic, yet strong.

     This book would be an excellent choice for reading aloud to a class to connect students to this time in our history, as difficult as it now is to see how wrongful our government's actions were. It is important for Canadian children to hear this story, especially when it is told so artfully and tactfully.

     The new addition adds more insight into the Naomi's extended family, additional information of the fate of Naomi's mother, a new ending, pencil drawing by Ruth Ohi that enhance the story and an historical note, perhaps disturbing in its condemnation of Canada's actions.

Highly Recommended.

Reesa Cohen is an Instructor of Children's Literature and Information Literacy at the Faculty of Education, University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.