Thursday, February 09, 2012

Sylvia & Aki (MG)

Sylvia & Aki. Winifred Conkling. 2011. Random House. 160 pages.

Sylvia Mendez imagined her first day of third grade at Westminster School. She would use her freshly sharpened yellow pencils to write her name in cursive at the top of her worksheets. Her just-out-of-the-shoe-box black Mary Janes would glide across the polished linoleum of the hallway. At the end of the day, she would come home and her father would hug her and ask, "What did you learn today?" Then she would tell him about her teacher and her classmates and everything else.
Sylvia never imagined the one that that actually happened even before her first day of school: she was turned away.

This wonderful little book is based on true events. The main characters Sylvia Mendez and Aki Munemitsu are real people, the novel is based on their experiences during World War II.

Sylvia Mendez and her siblings have been told they cannot attend Westminster School because they are Mexican. They will need to attend the Mexican school in the county. Every Mexican--no matter where they live--are to go to the same school. To say that the two schools are anywhere close to equal would be a joke. But Sylvia's father takes his children's education VERY seriously. And the answer the school board gives him just isn't acceptable to him. What he sees is injustice, and he wants it to end. This fight for justice and equality will end in court. And the chapters focused on this trial are fascinating and disturbing. Those chapters alone would make this one a worthy read.

Aki Munemitsu and her family are one of many families of Japanese descent being deported from California after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Her family is being sent to an internment camp in Arizona. The novel focuses on her experiences during those years.

So how do these two stories connect? Sylvia's father is leasing the farm from Aki's family. Sylvia is living in Aki's house, sleeping in her bedroom. Sylvia discovers Aki's doll, the doll she had to leave behind. Sylvia decides to go with her dad on one of his trips to the internment camp to pay rent. The two girls meet and decide to write one another.

I liked this one. I did. It was a wonderful little novel. I found it informative and fascinating. I learned so much while reading this one. I would definitely recommend it!

Favorite quotes:

After weeks of trying to convince people to sign his letter to the school board stating that Mexican and white children should go to school together, Sylvia's father had collected only eight signatures.
"What are you going to do with the letter?" Sylvia asked her father. She didn't think he would turn it in with so few names.
"I'm going to deliver it," he said. "It would be the right thing to do, even if no one else is willing to sign."
Sylvia rode with her father to the courthouse in Santa Ana on the day he dropped off the letter. Just a couple of blocks from the courthouse Sylvia saw a sign posted in a diner window: NO DOGS OR MEXICANS. The words made her feel sick. She was glad her father had spotted someone he knew on the street and hadn't noticed the sign.
That sign is talking about me, she thought. Dogs and Mexicans and me. The sign gnawed at Sylvia all afternoon and into the evening. Before drifting off to sleep that night, she stared at the ceiling and thought about how those four little words could hurt her so much. Then she recalled the hateful signs she had seen posted in town about the Japanese--hand-lettered signs reading JAPS GO HOME and government-printed notices telling them that they had to go away, to leave their houses, to go to the camps. This made her think of the girl she knew only from a photograph and the few scraps of her life that were left in what was now Sylvia's bedroom.
How did Aki feel when she saw those signs and read those posters? Sylvia wondered. Did Aki feel as hurt as I do now?
Sylvia looked over at her dolls. Carmencita leaned against the corner of one shelf, and Keiko stood in the corner of another.
Sylvia got out of bed and moved Keiko to the shelf next to Carmencita. She placed the dolls side by side, then stood back. How nice they look together--almost like sisters. She rested Keiko's pale china hand in Carmencita's brown cloth one. It seemed right and good to see them so close. I wonder if I will ever meet Aki. Could we ever be friends? (65-6)

Read Sylvia and Aki
  • If you like historical books written for children
  • If you like books written about this time period, the second world war
  • If you like books written about different cultures

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Unknown said...

Thank you for sharing this book! The experiences of discrimination against Mexican-Americans is a mostly unexplored topic, so it's great to find a children's book that addresses both that and the Japanese-American internment camps.

Peggy Strack said...

This looks like an intriguing read. Thanks for sharing.