Sandra Dallas on her book Red Berries, White Clouds, Blue Sky
Ed. Note: What follows is an essay by author Sandra Dallas about her book Red Berries, White Clouds, Blue Sky which is part of the OverDrive Summer Read program. Students at participating school and public libraries can borrow this title through July 9th without any waitlists or holds. Learn more about the program here.
As a girl I learned western history from children’s novels. I read the Little House books, Smiling Hill Farm (my older sister’s favorite,) and the stories of Florence Crannell Means. They awakened my interest in the settlement of the West and its rich diversity. They led to my career as a writer of books set in the American West.
When I decided to write middle-grade books, I remembered how the writers who came before me not only told stories but taught me about my country. I hoped to do that, too. I wanted to write books that would entertain but would teach readers about subjects I cared about. That’s why I wrote Red Berries, White Clouds, Blue Sky.
I first learned about the World War II relocation camps shortly after I graduated from the University of Denver, when I went pheasant hunting with a friend in eastern Colorado. He told me he’d show me something he bet I’d never heard of and took me to the site of Amache, the camp I renamed Tallgrass in Red Berries. When I researched the camp, I found out I had a connection with it. After the war ended, some of the Amache barracks were sold to DU, and my journalism classes were held in one.
The United States declared war against Japan in 1941, and just weeks later, President Franklin Roosevelt issued an order to round up 100,000 Japanese who were living on the West Coast and send them to camps in the interior of the U.S. The government feared they would aid the enemy. The internees were allowed to take with them only what they could fit into suitcases. Most sold their other possessions for less than they were worth or just walked away from them.
Many of the people sent to the camps had been born in America and were U.S. citizens. They didn’t even speak Japanese. The order to relocate them violated their civil rights, but Americans were so afraid they were spies that they didn’t care. Only a few courageous Americans stood up for these Japanese-Americans. One was Colorado’s governor Ralph Carr, who welcomed them to the state. But Coloradoans didn’t agree with him, and they never again elected Carr to a public office. By the way, not a single instance of espionage was ever proven against a Japanese-American.
We don’t like to admit what they’ve done wrong, so until recently, most Americans didn’t know about the relocation camps. The Japanese internees, too, wanted to move ahead and put that unpleasant time behind them. But today, many former internees believe that the stories of the camps should be told so that we would never again take away the liberty of loyal Americans and American immigrant, just because of their ancestry
That was why I wrote Red Berries. I wanted readers to know about the camps, but more than that, I hoped they would learn that the Japanese who lived in them were no different from people living outside the camp, that the children went to school and played baseball, made dolls and built snowmen. As my main character, Tomi, says, they were loyal Americans.
Sandra Dallas is an award-winning author, dubbed as “the quintessential American voice” by Jane Smiley, in Vogue Magazine”
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