CM . . .
. Volume XXII Number 1. . . .September 4, 2015
Cherry Blossom Baseball. (A Cherry Blossom Book).
Toronto, ON: Dundurn, 2015.
250 pp., trade pbk., PDF & EPub, $11.99 (pbk.), 11.99 (PDF), $8.99 (EPub).
ISBN 978-1-4597-3166-0 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4597-3167-7 (pdf), ISBN 978-1-4597-3168-4 (Epub).
Japanese Canadians- Evacuation and relocation, 1942-1945 - Juvenile fiction
Grades 5-8 / Ages 10-13.
Review by Jocelyn Reekie.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
…after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and the Unites States joined the war against Japan, the Canadian government seized all the boats that belonged to the Japanese and towed them away. [Michiko’s Uncle] Ted lost his boat, his job and his pay.…
In the ghost town, Ted was put in charge of building the houses in the orchard. The government had told him to burn the leftover lumber, but Ted was not one to waste. He built a little rowboat and launched it on Carpenter Creek…. As her family watched it bob on the water, their hearts soared with hope. Not hopes of escape, or of spying, but of fresh fish for dinner, sunny days on the lake, and swimming adventures.
But any thoughts of her uncle’s little red boat worried Michiko to no end. Last week, … she heard Mrs. Morrison talking to someone on the church’s front step.
Michiko recognized George’s mother’s voice and hid behind the snowball bush to watch and wait for her to leave. She didn’t like this tall woman with her cold, superior smile.
“I am only doing my patriotic duty,” Mrs. King had said in her sharp, shrill voice. I take no pleasure in informing the authorities.”
“You are the one being ridiculous,” Mrs. Morrison said, placing her hands on her ample hips. “Almost all of the Japanese here were born in Canada. Who cares if they own a boat?”
“The government cares,” Mrs. King said, clenching her fists. “They could be spying.”
“Just three people?” George asked in his usual whiny voice, bringing her back to the baseball diamond. “How can we play a game of baseball with just three people, especially when one is a girl?”
“We’re not having a game,” Clarence answered…. “I told you we would be having a practice.” He turned back to Michiko.
She positioned herself over the plate, determined to hit the ball. This time she tapped it with the tip of the bat. It bounced foul.
“You dipped your shoulder,” said a deep voice from behind. She peered out from under her oversized cap and smiled. Her Uncle Kaz picked up the ball and walked over to Clarence.
“How’s her pitching?” he asked.
“A lot better than her hitting,” Clarence said with a grin. “She’s got a good swing, but she’s afraid of the ball.”
“I am not,” Michiko yelled back, even though she knew Clarence was right. …
“Stop closing your eyes and keep them on the ball,” Clarence said. “How can you be such a great pitcher but such a terrible hitter?”
I’m not closing my eyes, Michiko thought. I’m just blinking hard. She repositioned herself, determined to make a hit.
Clarence pitched again. This time Michiko slammed a hard grounder.
George watched it roll past him.
“That thing in your hand is called a mitt,” Clarence yelled at him.
George ran after the ball, picked it up, and walked to the plate. “My turn at bat,” he said, grabbing it out of her hand. “Where did you get this bat, anyway? It looks stolen.”
Michiko…went into the field. In a short while, her family would be out of this town for good. She couldn’t wait to get away from all these suspicions and bad feelings.
Cherry Blossom Baseball is the third book in Jennifer Maruno’s series based on her mother-in-law’s stories about the internment of British Columbia’s Japanese-Canadians during World War II. Like Cherry Blossom Winter, this is a fast-paced, intriguing read. Maruno introduces more about Japanese culture and about what life was like for those who were stripped of most of their belongings and were forced to move to camps. Readers will also learn something about baseball as they follow the development of Michiko Minigawa, a likeable heroine.
Now, Michiko’s father has a new job, and her family is getting ready to move from the ghost town to Ontario. Michiko is counting the days until it happens. There are people here she’ll miss. Her Aunt Sadie, who has taught her many things, and her Uncle Kaz, who took up where Michiko’s grandfather left off teaching her to play baseball, won’t be going with them. She’ll also miss Mrs. Morrison. Most of all, she’ll miss her friend and ally, Clarence, who, as well as playing baseball with her, has kept the secret of her Uncle Ted’s rowboat.
But she will not miss George King who has bullied her from the day her family arrived in town, nor his mother who has threatened to go to the authorities and report the boat Happily, that latter problem is solved when Uncle Ted gives Machiko the boat and she realizes it’s the perfect parting gift to give to Clarence who has already given her a beautiful blue box in which, she tells him, she’ll keep the letters she receives from him.
When Michiko and her mother, brother and little sister arrive in Toronto, her father meets them at the station and his employer, Mr. Downey, drives them through town in his grey sedan. The hustle and bustle of the big city gives Michiko big dreams, dreams that are dashed when she discovers their new home is a small house on the gladiola flower farm where her father works, and she attends school in yet another village where yet another bully lies in wait for her. The one saving grace is that there is a junior boys’ baseball team on which Michiko yearns to play. But, she is a girl.
Though racism is a dominant theme throughout the book, Maruno uses skilful devices to bring several other issues to the fore as she further explores the history of the time, issues that are as relevant now as they were then.
Through the simple device of Michiko’s name, the author brings out identity and gender-role issues. At school, Michiko is called Millie because that’s her English name. When she tries out for the boys’ baseball team, her name become Mitch because it’s easier to pretend she’s a boy than reveal the fact she’s a girl who can pitch, hit and run far better than many of the boys can.
The issue of bullying is further explored as well, and it is not just between kids or just between different races. Six months into her new school year, Michiko hasn’t one single friend, a dismal reality that is not likely to change anytime soon as the bully, Carolyn, has all the girls in their class under her thumb.
After Michiko makes the ball team, some boys on the team—and some parents—use bullying to try and make her quit.
Then there is Mrs. Takahashi who insists Michiko must learn to speak Japanese and declares girls have no business doing things like riding bicycles and playing sports.
Just as thoughtfully, Maruno reveals more Japanese traditions and beliefs and the conflict between generations that immigrants still face.
There is a mysterious business going on between Michiko’s mother, Eiko, and her Aunt Sadie, who lands in Ontario without her husband, Kaz. That’s adult business, and, as Michiko has been told before, kids are not supposed to put their noses into adult business.
However, adults continue to put their noses into Michiko’s business. Her mother expects Michiko to get straight As, but she refuses to buy her running shoes. The wood floor of the gym is old and splintery. Because Michiko doesn’t have runners, she must take off her socks and shoes in gym class. She fears getting slivers in her bare feet. As a result, Michiko’s participation in Phys Ed is not up to an A. Worse, her fear causes her to become the butt of her classmates’ jokes. Her lunches, composed of food like rice balls because her mother will not put anything like peanut butter and jam sandwiches in her bag, are another source of her classmates’ derision and embarrassment for her.
Maruno’s use of language is careful, as is the tempo at which her main character grows up. Michiko doesn’t find her voice overnight. Nor does her interest in boys become a dominant theme at age 12. That said, the author does bow to what has become a mandatory sexual awakening in pre-teen books, and Michiko experiences a ‘fluttery stomach’ in connection with a handsome, slightly older, boy. The author also bows to the stereotype of an exceptionally polite, respectful and compliant child when it comes to how Michiko deals with her parents’ dictums. Michiko never evinces any kind of temper, impatience or rudeness. All of her interactions with her family and other elders show incredible restraint and maturity. Realistic? Well, one can only hope the readers of this book will take that example to heart.
Jocelyn Reekie is a writer and editor in Campbell River, BC.
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