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The No-No Boys

The No-No Boys

Why did you choose The No-No Boys as the second book in your Home-Front Heroes Series?

All along, I knew I wanted to tell the story of Japanese internment in the second book in the series. This was such an important part of how this country experienced the war and it's not something kids are hearing about today. I remember as a child thinking that America was the "good guy" during World War II and that we'd done everything right. Not until I heard about the internment of people of Japanese ancestry did I realize that we might have made mistakes as well.

How do the schoolchildren you visit react when they hear about this episode in our history?

Whenever I start to tell them about how kids as young as themselves were rounded up and sent to internment camps along with their families, I pause for a moment to let the information sink in. Inevitably, one child raises his hand and says, "Here? We did that in this country?" We go on then to talk about whether or not the internment was right or fair, but I also try to put into context the feelings of the times. It's never completely fair to judge history by today's standards. We have to understand how we used to think and feel and what forces changed those thoughts and feelings that led us to progress to where we are today.

How can kids today apply what they've learned about the Japanese internment experience?

I've always felt we have to know and understand our past in order to keep from repeating it. When I speak to kids today, many of them are able to make the connection that prejudice in all forms, even in times of war, is wrong. And stories like The No-No Boys help them connect to characters who in most ways, are not so different from kids today. Once they can connect to characters in such a way, they can better put themselves in the shoes of their peers around the world.

What were your concerns in writing The No-No Boys?

I know this episode in American history is very important to the Japanese-American population and especially to those who lived in the camps. I was extremely concerned that I not only get the facts right, but that I do the best I could to relay the camp experience. I did this by relying on the memories and stories told to me by the four people who inspired the story as well as by my additional research. But it wasn't just the camp details I felt I had to get right, but also the Japanese-American culture. I did the best I could to take what I knew about Japanese culture from my research, my trip to Japan and my friendship with Japanese and Japanese-American citizens and weave that into the story. In all cases, I hope I got the details right.

How did you create the character of Tai Shimoda?

Two of the men I'd interviewed from the camps told me that before the war broke out, they never thought of themselves as anything other than "regular American kids." So I wanted Tai to portray that above all else. He likes sports and hanging out with his friends. He has a crush on a girl and is caught up in the same kind of peer pressure any young teen experiences. Though kids today may not be able to relate to the camp experience, they can relate to Tai and that makes his dilemma all the more immediate to them.

What surprised you about writing this story?

That I had never heard of the No-No Boys or the dissension in the camps and that there was, as there so often is, more than one way to respond to anything. Tai's family makes decisions based on what fits their particular view of the world. His friends' families do the same. It was important to me to show in this book how complex those decisions really were. And I trusted that kids would get that, and they do.