Seen and Unseen – Internment Through Three Lenses

A new book of the Japanese incarceration during World War II.

Seen and Unseen is a beautiful book that captures the essence of Japanese internment during World War II from three lenses – literally. The photographs of Dorothea Lange, Toyo Miyatake, and Ansel Adams are used throughout to illustrate life in the camps and to tell the story of what happened to those interned. There is actually a fourth and fifth lens through which we view the incarceration – author Elizabeth Partridge, who is the goddaughter of Dorothea Lange and Lauren Tamaki, a yonsei (fourth generation) Japanese Canadian whose grandparents were incarcerated in British Columbia.

Everyone I knew had photos from the famous Toyo Miyatake studios

Interestingly, this book will appeal to all ages. Older readers will appreciate the detail, the accuracy, and the way life is accurately depicted in the camps. It’s in the little things that accentuate the impact of this book – the typography, the notes in the margin, and the combination of photographs and hand drawn images. Younger readers will appreciate Partridge’s easy-to-read style. An author known for her work for younger readers, the main narrative shows this clearly and it is well done. Tamaki’s illustrations are excellent and her choices in both line work and color capture life in the camps in a different way than the photographs without taking anything away from them. The essays which conclude the book delve deeper into the narrative and enrich the rest of the book.

Interior art by Lauren Tamaki
So impactful

As a Japanese American myself with parents and grandparents (and aunts and uncles, etc.) who were incarcerated in these concentration camps, I felt I knew a lot about the internment, but even with as much as I know, this book opened my eyes to details I hadn’t considered before. Farmers being told to work until the end so the nation would have the literal fruit of their labor as the Japanese were losing everything, families having to give away their pets, the cloth sacks that served as mattresses – it was in the details again that were even more eye-opening for me.

As we come upon the Day of Remembrance (February 19 – the date FDR signed Executive Order 9066), this book is a meaningful way to share about what happened in our country and to make sure it never happens again. Highly recommended reading, not just for people who aren’t aware of the details of that fateful order, but also for those who know the stories well. The rich illustrations, the quotes from people who lived through it, and the straight-forward way it was framed as an injustice against American citizens make this book a rich resource. It was also incredibly interesting to read about how different Lange and Adams approached their assignment to photograph the camps and the limitations and barriers they came across while doing so. Make sure to pass this resource on to others so that we all remember and insure a better future for our country and our children.

Title: Seen and Unseen
Author: Elizabeth Partridge / Lauren Tamaki
Cost: $21.99 (list) / $19.79 (Amazon)
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Ages: 10 and up
Genre: American History / Children’s Illustrated Book

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