Baseball Saved Us. It’s an intriguing title. Your immediately find yourself asking, saved who? From what? And why are the little boys on the cover of the book inside a barbed wire fence?
Baseball at Camp
The boys are Japanese. The world is at war. The boys and their families have been forced from their homes and taken to a camp in the middle of a desert. Not a camp that was fun, Shorty tells us. Not like summer camp. This camp has armed guards and barbed wire. It’s blistering hot during the day, and painfully cold at night. There is no privacy. There is nothing to do.
Everyone is bored and irritable. And Shorty’s dad decided they need to play baseball. They are, after all, Americans. And baseball is the quintessentially American game.
He and the other men set to work creating a ball field. The women use mattress ticking to make uniforms. Someone gets bats and balls and gloves sent to the camp from back home. And they play ball.
Shorty played baseball in the time before camp. He wasn’t very good then. He still isn’t very good. His dad tells him to try harder. And Shorty tries.
And in the championship game, in the bottom of the ninth, Shorty comes up to bat. The score is 3-2. There was a man on second, and two outs. Shorty swung and missed. And again. Then he saw the guard in the tower watching the game. And Shorty got angry. He focused. And he hit a home run.
In a conventional baseball story, the book would have ended with Shorty being lifted up on his teammates’ shoulders. But this isn’t a conventional story. Shorty says the home run didn’t fix everything. When he got home after the war, his friends from camp went to other places. At school, nobody would talk with him. Nobody would play with him. He ate lunch alone.
But he joined the baseball team. And while he was still small, all the practice at camp meant he was pretty good. And that was enough to allow his teammates to accept him. But not the people on the other teams. Not the people in the stands.
Shorty had to decide how to respond to the hatred.
About the Author and the Illustrator
Baseball Saved Us was the debut picture book for both writer Ken Mochizuki and illustrator Dom Lee. They have since worked together on other picture books, including Passage to Freedom, about Chiune Sugihara. In Baseball Saved Us, Lee used oil paints over scratchboard to create images that are muted like old color photographs. They’re beautifully understated.
And so is the story. It captures the outrages of the internment camps with a voice that is quiet, almost matter-of-fact. It’s a child’s voice, telling a child’s experience.
Parents should know that racial slurs do appear in the story. That was part of the experience for Japanese-Americans at that time.
Baseball Saved Us includes a brief author’s note, which reads as follows:
In 1942, while the United States was at war with Japan, the U.S. Army moved all people of Japanese descent away from the West Coast. They were sent to internment camps in the middle of the American deserts up until 1945. The reason, the U.S. government said, was because it could not tell who might be loyal to Japan. None of these immigrants from Japan – or their children, who were American citizens – were ever proven to be dangerous to America during World War II. In 1988, the U.S. government admitted that what it did was wrong.
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Passage to Freedom: A Review: From the same author and illustrator as Baseball Saved Us, this book tells the story of Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat and Orthodox Christian who risked everything to save the lives of Jewish refugees during World War II.
Write to Me: A story of a librarian in World War II: This picture book tells the true story of librarian Clara Breed and the Japanese American children she served in San Diego and in the internment camps.
Silent as a Stone: A Review: When Nazi authorities began rounding up her Jewish neighbors and taking them to the Velodrome, Mother Maria of Paris conspired with the French janitors to rescue children, by hiding them in trash cans.