Sylvia and Aki by Winifred Conkling

Sylvia & Aki9781582463452_p0_v1_s260x420Sylvia & Aki: Friendship Knows No Barriers

Winifred Conkling, Author

Tricycle Press, Random House imprint, Fiction, 2011

Suitable for Ages: 9-12

Themes:  Race Relations, Segregation in Education, Japanese American Relocations, Mexican Americans, Friendship

Synopsis:  Two third-grade students are caught up in the fear that engulfed our country during WW II.  Aki Munemitsu and her family are Japanese American citizens who own an asparagus farm in Westminster, CA.  When war breaks out they are sent to an internment camp in Poston, AZ.  Sylvia Mendez and her family rent the home vacated by Aki’s family and run the farm.  Sylvia discovers a Japanese doll hidden in the back of  her closet and wonders about the girl who owns it and her life in the camp.  Sylvia is excited about attending Westminster School, until she is not allowed to enroll in the town school and told that she must attend the run-down Mexican School across town.  Like Aki, Sylvia faces a fear of a different kind —  the fear of racial integration in America.  Both girls face discrimination.  Sylvia and her father challenge the school district in California court system.  Their landmark case eventually ends school segregation nationally.

Why I like this book:  This is an important story to tell because of the fear that pervaded our country during WW II and the social injustices that occurred.  Winifred Conkling has written a touching and true story about the lives of two girls who question their identities as Americans, their own self-worth and come to grips with the prejudices of the country they love and call home.  The author writes their story in alternating chapters, which fit together very nicely and focus on race relations in America at that time.  Both girls were strong, determined, brave and stood up for what they believed.  This is a great discussion book for the classroom.

The story of Sylvia and Aki fits in nicely with the theme of International Day of the Girl Child on October 11 which is a day “to recognize girls’ rights and the unique  challenges girls face around the world.”  Sylvia challenged the California court system laws on segregation. I will review a picture book related to this special day on Friday.

Resources:  The author opens  with a note about word choice and the terms used in the 1940s.  There is a lengthy afterword about the Mendez and Munemitsu families, and a discussion about segregation in America.  The girls are close friends today.  Please visit Winifred Conkling at her website.  There is a teacher’s guide for the book.  Another important discussion would be about girl power.  Encourage students to talk about what girls can do to help each other locally and globally.  Talk about the differences in education for girls in first and third worlds.

About Patricia Tiltonhttps://childrensbooksheal.wordpress.comI want "Children's Books Heal" to be a resource for parents, grandparents, teachers and school counselors. My goal is to share books on a wide range of topics that have a healing impact on children who are facing challenges in their lives. If you are looking for good books on grief, autism, visual and hearing impairments, special needs, diversity, bullying, military families and social justice issues, you've come to the right place. I also share books that encourage art, imagination and creativity. I am always searching for those special gems to share with you. If you have a suggestion, please let me know.

21 thoughts on “Sylvia and Aki by Winifred Conkling

  1. I was interested this came under fiction and not historical fiction. I am guessing it was only very loosely based on real facts. It sounds an excellent read, especially as a classroom text. Thank you, Pat.

    • It is a true story, but it was fictionalized. I wanted to put it under historical fiction. The girls, now women, remain close friends today. Yes, it is perfect for the classroom.

  2. A lovely topic and so important. War is a terrible thing on so many levels. Surely one of the greatest things that our humanity allows us is to reach across boundaries, suspicion and fear…not easy when our neighbours suddenly become our enemies.

  3. I like books like these. Most books I read that take place in WWII are in Europe during the Holocaust. I don’t normally read books about the Americans with the Japanese camps, so this sounds like a good book for me. 🙂

  4. A perfect book for October 11. I also loved Naomi’s Road by Joy Kogawa, on a similar topic but takes place in Canada. Ms Kogawa was herself a child interned during WW II.

    • Thank you for tweeting my review. Yes, I thought it fit Oct. 11, brave girls making a statement. Thanks for the book recommendation. I will have to check out Naomi’s Road. It’s an important subject and few kids know about that period in our history. It was before we were born.

  5. That is a very sweet cover. But it doesn’t sound like a sweet topic. Sounds like it would be a good story for the classroom. I’ll be checking it out! Thanks Ms Tilton for another interesting book.

      • Sometimes big kids read their big books to me. And sometimes I get to sit in on classroom read alouds. I don’t always get the whole story and sometimes I fall asleep, but I enjoy it nonetheless.

  6. I grew up near Westminister, California and my mom was relocated during WWII for being Japanese American. I really need a copy of this book for my kids. Thanks for helping me discovery it!!

  7. Pingback: Separate is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh | Children's Books Heal

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