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I am an American

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I am an American Stanley, Jerry. 1994. I am an American: A true story of Japanese internment. New York: Scholastic. ISBN: 0590684442.

Shi Nomura is an all-American teenage boy who just happens to be of Japanese ancestry when Pearl Harbor is bombed on December 7, 1941. In I am an American, Jerry Stanley tells Shi's story of internment during World War II and in so doing gives readers a personal account of what life was like for these innocent citizens during that time.

Stanley writes in a very matter-of-fact style which neither over-dramatizes or glosses over the plight faced by Japanese-Americans and Japanese nationals living in the United States. This is seen in his writing at the end of the introduction. In a simple sentence that belies the enormity of the situation, Stanley writes simply "But despite their loyalty, on February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt authorized the removal of all Japanese from the west coast and their confinement in relocation camps - not because they had done anything wrong but only because they were Japanese." (Stanley, p.4) Stanley also makes repeated and effective use of statistics that speak for themselves, such as "More important, America was also at war with Germany and Italy - but few citizens of German or Italian ancestry were interned during World War II. There were 51,923 Italian aliens and 19,422 German aliens living in California - more than all the Japanese aliens living in the United States. But only a handful of them were interned." (Stanley, p.23) The number paints a powerful portrait for how unjust the governments edicts were during this ordeal. By presenting these relevant statistics and then focusing on the life of Shi Nomura, Stanley is able to show both the bigger picture and also how those decisions affected individuals. Burns comments in her review that Stanley writes I am an American with "stunning intensity," and it is clear that he is passionate about telling this story.

I am an American includes a bibliographic note, picture credits, and an index. Stanley's extensive research is the strong point of this book. The book is filled with personal stories and remembrances, and the bibliographic note reveals that Stanley was able to interivew five of the characters in the book, some more than once. These personal accounts along with Stanley's background research combine well and result in writing that is full of human drama undergirded with facts that make it that much more real.

The text of this book consists of an introduction, eight chapters, and an epilogue which tells readers what happened in later life to the characters they have come to know throughout the book. The text is set in a medium to large serif font, and the lines of text have more than the average amount of white space between them. Black and white pictures of scenes of the times and also photographs of Shi and his friends give readers a more thorough look into this story. There are also maps that show where the internment camps were located, and reproductions of propaganda posters from World War II. The text itself is set toward the center of the book with white space on the outsides of each page.

Although there is much in this story that America should not be proud of, Stanley is careful to give a balanced look at the situation. Stories are told of a Japanese-American Infantry that became "the most decorated American unit to serve in World War II" (Stanley, p.65) and of other citizens who helped their friends and neighbors, such as "Amy's family packed their possessions in crates and gave them to Hattie Woods, their next-door neighbor, who was black. Mrs. Woods had two daughters Amy's age, and all three had grown up together as close friends. Hattie volunteered to store the crates in her basement and rent the family home." (Stanley, p.33) Marton calls this book an "eloqent account of the disastrous results of racial prejudice," and it is indeed a well-balanced book that tells the story well and educates at the same time.

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