At eight years old, Zeni saw his first baseball game. From then on, all he wanted to do was play baseball. He built a successful career for himself playing and coaching baseball in two Japanese leagues in Fresno, California. After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and the United States entered the Second World War, all people of Japanese descent on the west coast, whether or not they were citizens of the United States, were sent to internment camps. Zeni, his wife and two teenage sons were sent to a camp at Gila River, Arizona. Barbed wire prevented those interned at the camp from leaving. They lived in barracks that were essentially rows and rows of cots. Zeni felt himself shrinking and realized that if he were ever to feel at home in the camp he had to play baseball. That’s exactly what he did; he built a baseball field and played baseball.
The book focuses on Zeni’s drive to play baseball. This makes the book a good way to introduce kids to the Japanese internment camps in the second world war. The book shows how spirit crushing the camps were for Japanese-Americans. And in one paragraph it indicates that the Japanese-Americans were sent to the camps because they might be spies; the government didn’t produce evidence that they were spies nor did they put any Japanese-Americans on trial before sending them to the internment camps. Yet, because the book doesn’t focus primarily on the camps, it’s possible for kids to take in the information without being hit over the head with the unfairness of the camps. It’s also possible to use the book as a way to open a discussion about whether or not United States should have treated its own citizens of Japanese descent in such a way.
The illustrations do a beautiful job of adding detail to the story. At the back of the book there is a one page biography of Kenichi Zenimura, the real life Zeni. There’s also an author’s note and artists note and a helpful bibliography as well as an index.
This is a great book both for kids interested in baseball and for kids interested in the Japanese American experience during World War II.