Saturday 31 May 2014

I Am an American


     The day after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour on December 7, 1941, a Japanese American businessman unfurled a banner on his store front announcing "I am an American".  The American public seemed to agree.  According to the L.A. Times, the Japanese-Americans were "good Americans, born and educated as such."  

     However, in the weeks following the attack, public opinion started to changed, fuelled in part by the press who wanted to prove that the Japanese were intent on mounting a full scale invasion of the American West Coast.  In February of 1942, the San Francisco Examiner warned:  "Ouster of all Japs in California near!"

     By March of 1942, the American government issued a proclamation ordering all Japanese-Americans to move inland, banning them from living within 100 miles of the Pacific Coast.  Later that month, the government set a 8 pm to 6 am curfew for all Japanese Americans.  By May 1942, 110.000 Japanese-Americans were ordered to relocate to interment camps in the Interior.   The internees usually had their homes, businesses and belongings confiscated.

     At least 62% of those interned were born in America, not Japan.  But the government was classifying someone with as little as 1/16 Japanese blood, as an "enemy alien".  According to Colonel Bendetson, "I am determined that if they have one drop of Japanese blood in them, they must go to the camp."  Ironically, Hawaii, where the military attack had originally taken place, was an exception.  Even though there was a huge Japanese American population there (150,000) only 1200 to 1800 of them were interned.  General Emmons, backed up by most of the white Hawaiian businessmen, fought the internment of the Japanese in Hawaii, knowing that it would severely hurt Hawaii's economy.  

     In an attempt to prove their loyalty to the United States, 20.000 children of Japanese immigrants signed up for the U. S. Military.  The 442nd Regimental Combat Team, one such regiment, served with distinction in the European theatre.  

     In January of 1945, the exclusion ordered was rescinded.  Japanese Americans were each given $25 and a train ticket.  While the majority returned to their homes, a minority emigrated to Japan.  

     Decades later, in 1988, the American government apologized to the Japanese Americans and offered them reparations.

Friday 30 May 2014

From Enemy Aliens to Strategic Soldiers

My family and I attended Olivet United Church in Hamilton for 30 years.  There was a Japanese Canadian family there named Hyodo.  One day my dad told me a story about Mr. and Mrs. Hyodo.  They were not from Ontario, but British Columbia.  During the Second World War, they were rounded up and thrown into internment camps, simply because they were of Japanese heritage.  They weren't even born in Japan; they were born in Canada.  But Canada was at war with Japan and didn't trust anyone of Japanese descent.

Then my Dad told me another story.  He used to take his cars to a body shop on Dundurn Street in Hamilton owned by a man named Sam Suenaga.  I knew Sam was good because my Dad wouldn't let anybody but the best touch his cars.  Mr. Suenaga, like Mr. Hyodo, was of Japanese background.  And like Mr. Hyodo, he was from British Columbia.  His wife's parents had owned a quaint hotel in Victoria on Vancouver Island. When the police rounded up the Japanese-Canadians, their hotel was taken along with any other possessions they had.

The Hyodo's and the Suenaga's survived the internment camps despite the solitude and the hardships.
Midway through the war, the Canadian government, who had considered them "enemy aliens" at the beginning of the war, actually sang a different tune.  Why not use the Japanese-Canadians to infiltrate the enemy lines in Japan?  So, that's what they did.  Canadians like Mr. Hyodo were recruited by the army to sail to Japan, and go behind enemy lines, acting as Japanese.  They looked the part.  They knew the language.  And it worked!  The same people the Canadian government had imprisoned a few years before were now helping Canada win the war.

When Mr. Hyodo returned to Canada after the war, he settled in Hamilton, Ontario.  He married and raised four children.  He had a successful career.  Mr. Suenaga also married and raised a family.  He too had a successful career.  Mrs. Suenaga's family never did get their hotel back.  Mr. Hyodo's family never got their possessions back. For their part, the Canadian government acted like they did nothing wrong.

Decades passed and the war started to recede from people's memories.  Mr. Suenaga continued to fix cars. Mr. Hyodo retired.  One weekend in September of 1988, he decided to go fishing on Lake Ontario with some friends.  A sudden storm picked up on the lake, and his rowboat was overturned.  Tragically, Mr. Hyodo drowned. Later that month, the Canadian government issued a long overdue apology to the Japanese-Canadians who had been interned during the Second World War.  Mr. Suenaga heard the apology.  Mr Hyodo missed it by three weeks.

This post is dedicated to all of the Japanese Canadians who were interned in the British Columbia Interior during the Second World War.

Canadian Japanese interment camp circa 1945 courtesy

Thursday 29 May 2014

Dusting Off My Manuscript

If you follow my blog regularly, you will have noticed that I have not been blogging for the past two weeks. That's because I've been hard at work writing a new book.  My manuscript for the picture book I'm Just a Home Child, based on the life of my great-grandma, has been on the back burner for a year and a half.  I didn't give up on it, but I figured I'd focus on other things and return to it when the time was right.  Well, that time is now.

It has been an exciting two weeks.  I've found myself rushing through household chores so I can get to my computer to write.  I think about it when I'm on the elliptical machine at McFit. I think about it when I'm driving down the street.  All I want to do is write.

You might ask me:  How do you write a book in two weeks?  Well, it really hasn't been two weeks, it's been five years.  It was back in 2009 that I started researching my great-grandma, Daisy Blay's, life.  I wrote a short story called "The Gold & Pearl Necklace".  I wrote a picture book called I'm Just a Home Child. Now, I'm composing a chapter book called I'm Just Daisy.  Thank you, Jacqueline, for the title!

I had everything at my fingertips to write this book:  file folders full of articles I printed out; library books about the British Home Children; copies of old photographs, notations carefully written on the back; endless hours of Internet surfing, and e-mails from our family's unofficial genealogist.  Thank you, Aunty Marlene!

And how can I forget to mention the invaluable advice and inspiration that I've received from fellow authors? I found the perfect chapter book at Brantford Library about the British Home Children.  I cried:  "That's the one!  I want my book to look like that book."  The format is perfect.  The layout is perfect.  The cover art is perfect.  And when I contacted the author, she gave me a gracious reply:  "No problem.  Go ahead and copy my format."   I was thrilled!  Thank you, Beryl!

Another author, who has several published works to her name, has proofread my manuscript and given me excellent feedback.  She has dissected it, page by page, and made meticulous notations.  I have followed her advice, almost to the letter.  Thank you, Rose!

I've breathed new life into an old manuscript.  I wrote and rewrote the query letter.  Now it's time to send out this baby. I feel like I've found the right format   I feel like my timing is right.  I feel like I'm knocking at the door and someone is waiting on the other side, ready to answer it.  I can hardly wait to see what's inside!

Note:  For my last post about writing my home child book visit "Manuscript Musings" at

Wednesday 28 May 2014


I searched the Internet to see what movies are playing tonight and noticed there is an encore performance of "Irreplaceable", a movie that I saw with my Prayer Group when it premiered three weeks ago.  Only scheduled for one performance, it is back by popular demand.

"Irreplaceable" is a documentary that explores the meaning of family in our current society.  Host Tim Sisarich, married with four children, goes on a journey around the world asking others about their families.  In the end, he discovers something profound about his own family.

Tim quotes the astounding statistics regarding divorce.  He tells us the devastating effects divorce has on society, the devastating effects it has on our children.  He visits a prison, typical of all prisons, filled with inmates who grew up without a father.  Tim speaks to the National Center for Fathering CEO Carey Casey, a former football player, who works with young men all over the United States.  Casey talks about meeting big burly football players who are handsome, wealthy and successful.  Tears well up in their eyes, however, as they describe their one wish:  to have their fathers sitting in the stands and cheering them on at a game.

Tim is the first to admit that he would not have accomplished what he has today if not for his father.  But then he throws the audience a curve ball.  We find out that Tim could have been one of the statistics quoted in the movie.  Tim's father was a handsome man who married and started a family.  He was a successful banker who went to prison in 1970 for embezzling a large amount of money.  His wife, however, stood beside him through the ordeal.  When he came out of prison, he wanted the world to like him, but it was too much of a weight to carry on his shoulders.  So he turned to drinking.  His wife stood beside him.  Years later, it was revealed that he had a three year affair with another woman which produced a child.  Tim had a half brother.

This was all too much for Tim to bear.  He and his father had an estrangement that lasted for years.  It was the documentary "Irreplaceable" that brought them back together.  Tim, with God's help, found it in his heart to forgive his father.  His father's response?  "I've been waiting a long time to hear those words."

Friday 16 May 2014

Ten Things You Didn't Know About Superheroes

1.  The inventor of Spiderman, Stan Lee, was told that making a spider a superhero was a stupid idea since everyone was afraid of spiders.

2.  Superman was originally a bald megalomaniac.

3.  The Incredible Hulk was supposed to be grey when the character debuted in 1962..  But one of the most consistent colours in print at the time was green and that is how the Hulk became green.

4.  Marvel and DC Comics both claimed the trademark for the term "superhero" back in the 1960's.

5.  "The Avengers", grossing over $200 million at the box office, is the biggest superheroes movie of all time.

6.  In 2002, there was a little boy who didn't want to wear his hearing aid because superheroes didn't wear them.  Marvel Comics in turn created a superhero with a hearing aid called Blue Ear.

7.  The very first Green Lantern used power from a green meteor from outer space.

8.  Batman and his friends throw tennis balls at Hitler in the issue where Nazi saboteurs visit Gotham City.

9.  Captain America punches Hitler on the cover of the very first issue.

10.  The Flash, nicknamed the Crimson Comet, first appeared in 1940.

Thursday 15 May 2014

Superheroes Rule!

I googled the top ten grossing movies of 2014 thus far.  Number 1 was Captain America:  The Winter Soldier.  Number 2 was The Amazing Spiderman 2.  It seems the more things change the more they stay the same.  Superheroes are more popular than ever.

When Rob was a little boy his mother used to dress him up in a Superman costume, complete with rain boots, a red towel pinned together with a clothespin and a giant yellow S on his chest.  Rob "flew" down Queensdale Ave. in that costume, keeping his neighbourhood safe for democracy.  He never tired of it.  Rob's Oma bought him his first Superman comic in the 1970's, the first of many trips to the comic store (now he has a whole closet full).  Rob treasured that comic.

When my brother Bill was little, he used to wear Superman underwear.  They were called "Underoos".  He had a Superman garbage can in his bedroom.  And he loved to watch the Superman movies starring Christopher Reeve as Clark Kent/Superman.

Bill's son, Bo, is now interested in Superheroes.  Spiderman came for a visit on Bo's birthday, flying down the stairs on one of his webs.  When Uncle Rob visits Bo, he tells him stories about the origins of each superhero, complete with sound effects.  On Mother's Day, Bo came to our house.  Rob gave him a gift:  a stack of comics from when he was a little boy. When Bo opened the first comic, it was like he had entered another universe.  He studied each of those comics intently, carefully flipping the pages.  We have a new comic book collector in the making.

The superhero is not dead.  He is very much alive.

Tuesday 13 May 2014

They Left Us Everything

On the shores of Lake Ontario in Oakville sits a spacious house built two centuries ago.  The couple who owned it passed away and left everything in it.  It was up to their daughter to sort through their belongings, things they had accumulated in their 50-year plus marriage.  Given that her mother didn't throw anything out, it was no small task for the daughter.  What started out as a six week plan stretched into a year and a half. And underneath what at first appeared to be junk, were hidden treasures.  

Plum Johnson's mother was a Southern debutante.  She grew up in Virginia, riding horses among hickory trees.  A cook made her meals.  A maid cleaned her room and did her laundry.  She had everything done for her.  Ahead of her time, she attended college in New York City after graduating from high school.  She was an amateur artist who even studied in Italy for a year.

But the Second World War interrupted her dream.  She signed up for the Red Cross.  She went out on a blind date in the Big Apple.  And she was smitten.  Soon she was sailing to England on a military ship.  Her sweetheart, who hailed from England, was called into the British Navy.  While he fought on battleships, she worked behind the scenes for the war effort.  Her sweetheart was captured by the Japanese but somehow escaped and returned to her.  

After the war, the two married on a shoestring budget.  Since she was American and he was British, they decided to compromise and settle in Canada.  They found a rollicking house on Lake Ontario which had a cottage-like feel.  He fixed it up and made it a more permanent home.  Then, one by one, they filled it up with five children.  But they didn't stop there.  When someone was in need of a meal, they would invite them to their dinner table.  When someone was in need of a bed, they would invite them to stay in their spare bedroom.  They embraced their new town and their new neighbours.  

Oakville in the 1940's and 1950's was still a town.  The couple got to know the townspeople well.  They held dinner parties where guests would waltz across the wooden floors of their dining room.  The couple could boogie with the best of them.  

One by one their children grew up.  And one by one they left the nest.  Their daughter got married right on the grounds of the house, the lake providing a magnificent backdrop for photos.  And she made them grandparents.  Tragedy struck in 1991 when their oldest son was stricken with cancer and passed away. But the couple weathered the storm.  

Finally, about five years ago, her father passed away.  Three years later, her mother passed away.  Their daughter moved into the house to sort through their things.  An author, she decided to write about her experience.  With the opening of each box, the memories of her childhood came flooding back.  At one point, she found a box full of what appeared to be trivial items.  She asked her brother what to do with it, and he said:  "Throw it out."  But she kept it and sorted through it.  Underneath the junk, she found a letter from Princess Elizabeth, written the year before she became queen, thanking her parents for their generous donation to a British charity.  In the end, writing about the experience of cleaning out her parents' house was a catharsis for the daughter.  And she came away with a book deal to boot.  


Monday 12 May 2014

Twelve Years a Slave

A free black man, Solomon Northrup, is born in the state of New York in the late 1700's.  He marries and has three children.  He works hard.  Life is good.  One day, a white man hears him playing his violin and compliments him on his talent.  He offers to pay him handsomely to play his instrument at a circus in Washington D.C.  The black man, not wanting to pass up the opportunity, agrees.  The two men take him to Washington D.C. by horse and carriage.  Solomon plays the violin as was requested and the two men pay him.  On the second night in the nation's capital, Solomon falls violently ill.  He can barely move.  He is in terrible pain.  He is delirious.  In the middle of the night, someone enters his hotel room, pulls him out of bed and takes him away.  In the morning, Solomon finds himself bound and shackled on a slow boat to New Orleans.  There, he is sold as a slave.  Solomon makes the mistake of telling his first owner that he is really a free man from New York State for which he received a horrific beating.  Solomon remembers not to mention it again.  He escapes from an ax-wielding white man.  With hounds at his heels, he escapes through a Louisiana swamp.  Solomon survives and is sold to another slave owner who also beats him.  After twelve years a slave, he encounters Bass, the town's only abolitionist.  It takes a year, but eventually Bass's efforts free Solomon who returns to the loving arms of his wife, children, and now grandchildren.  

Note:  Given that Solomon Northrup had very little education, he was extremely well written.  This story is packed with dates, names and events.  A well written piece of prose!  Keep in mind that all of these events take place decades before the Civil War and before the infamous Uncle Tom's Cabin was written.

Sunday 11 May 2014

A Flower on Mother's Day

I used to dread Mother's Day.  I would sit in church and wait for the flowers to be handed out at the end of the service to all the mothers.  Someone would offer me one, which I would take, but under false pretense.  I didn't want to go into a lengthy explanation.

Sunday after Sunday I would sit in that same church, praying that one day it would be my baby up at the baptismal font being sprinkled with water.  But week after week, month after month, year after year, that didn't happen.

It was on Mother's Day in 1999 that I finally got my wish.  I sat in the pew at church.  I accepted the flower. And I held my precious baby boy.  That same year, my sister Lisa became a mother as well.  She, too, was blessed with a precious baby boy.  Our mom ordered us a special cake, a white cake with colourful icing. with a beautiful message:  "HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY, LISA & LINDA!"

From that year on, Mother's Day was different.  I looked forward to it.  I embraced it.  I treasured it. Happy Mother's Day to all of those women who accepted the flower today, who long for a baby, but whose arms are empty. May God bless you with a bundle of joy!

P.S.  Happy Mother's Day to the mom who gave us our little boy, Nicole!  THANK YOU!

Saturday 10 May 2014

Thomas Jefferson Builds a Library

"I cannot live without books." (Thomas Jefferson)

"As soon as Thomas Jefferson learned how to read, he discovered his passion....books,books and more books!"  He started a collection of books before the American Revolution.  Preferring the classics, Jefferson learned how to read in seven different languages.  His book collection at Monticello, his personal estate, eventually became the largest personal library in the United States.  When British troops burned the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. during the War of 1812, Jefferson was asked if he would sell his library to replace the burnt books.  In 1815, Jefferson sold his entire collection of 6,487 books at a cost of $23,950 to fill the shelves of the rebuilt library. Today, the Library of Congress is the largest library in the world.

Friday 9 May 2014

The Great American Dust Bowl

John Steinbeck wrote books about it.  Dorothy Lange photographed it.  Woody Guthrie wrote ballads about it.  It was the Great American Dust Bowl.  In the 1930's, the American west was struck by Black Blizzards. Dust choked people's lungs and blinded their eyes.  It invaded people's houses and destroyed their crops. It stopped automobiles and derailed freight trains.   The resulting drought drove tens of thousands of families from their farms.  Read about the Dirty Thirties in Don Brown's picture book The Great American Dust Bowl.

Note:  For more information:

1.  Watch Ken Burn's documentary "The Dust Bowl" (2012).
2.  Read John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath or Of Mice and Men.
3.  Listen to Woody Guthrie's "Dust Bowl Blues" at

Thursday 8 May 2014

First Garden: The White House Garden and How It Grew

Abigail Adams was the first First Lady to plant a vegetable garden at the White House.  Thomas Jefferson continued to tend to this garden when he was President.  Andrew Johnson even built a greenhouse where he grew tropical fruit trees.  Woodrow Wilson brought in sheep to graze on the White House lawn during the First World War.  Eleanor Roosevelt dug a victory garden during the Second World War to encourage Americans to grow their own vegetables.  As a result, 40% of the vegetables during the war were grown in private American gardens.  Hillary Clinton set up a rooftop vegetable garden when her husband was president.  Finally, Michelle Obama, concerned about her two daughters diet, had the biggest garden to date dug in 2009 at the White House.

Note:  Recipes are included in this picture book.


Wednesday 7 May 2014

Emma's Poem: The Voice of the Statue of Liberty

In 1883, the United States saw an influx of immigrants from Eastern Europe.  Emma Lazarus was so moved by the newcomers that she wrote the poem "The New Colossus", giving a voice to Lady Liberty, welcoming the foreigners to their new land.

Emma Lazarus, born in New York City, was one of seven children whose family had immigrated to the United State from Portugal back in Colonial times.  Emma studied British and American literature from an early age.  Her writing was good enough to attract the attention of Ralph Waldo Emerson who corresponded with her until his death.

Emma became more interested in her Jewish ancestry when she read about the Russian pogroms and anti-Semetic violence which followed the assassination of Czar Alexander II.  In response to the violence, Emma wrote Songs of a Semite in 1882.  Ahead of her time, Emma talked about a Jewish homeland thirteen years before the term Zionism was coined by Theodor Herzl.

In 1883, Emma wrote the poem "The New Colussus" and donated it to the fund to build a pedestal for the Statue of Liberty.  The lines of the sonnet appear on a bronze plaque on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, mounted in 1903.

Sadly, she passed away prematurely at 38, likely of Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Note:  Here is a link to the famous poem "The New Colossus":

Tuesday 6 May 2014

Words Set Me Free: The Story of Young Frederick Douglass

"I would unite with anybody to do right and nobody to do wrong." 
(Frederick Douglass)

Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey was born in a log cabin in rural Maryland in 1818.  His father was no longer in the picture and his mother left him for long periods with his grandmother while she went off to work. At the age of 6, Frederick moved to the Wye House Plantation where he worked for a slave owner.  His mother passed away only two years later around the same time as the slave owner.

Frederick came into the possession of Thomas Auld whose wife sent him to live with her sister in law, Sophia Auld in Baltimore.  Sophia saw promise in Frederick.  She taught the young black boy the alphabet; she taught him how to read, even though it was illegal to do so.  Sophia's wife, Hugh Auld, discovered what she was doing and warned her that if a slave learned how to read, he wouldn't want to be a slave anymore.  The statement, which was decidedly "antislavery" to Frederick, stuck with him for life.  He was more determined than ever to continue reading and to break the chains of slavery.

Monday 5 May 2014

Louisa May's Battle: How the Civil War Led to Little Women

Most of us have heard of the classic children's chapter book Little Women.  But how many know that the success of the book can be largely credited to the Civil War?

Louisa May Alcott served as a nurse during the American Civil War.  It was on the battlefield that she wrote letters home on behalf of wounded soldiers.  Louisa later used the same realism in her own letters that she had used in the soldiers' letters.  Her compilation of letters was published as Hospital Sketches and received high praise.  Louisa used the same approach when she penned her novel Little Women, one of the first novels to be set during the Civil War. Without Louisa's experience on the battlefield, she never would have been able to write such a convincing novel, a novel which brought her resounding success.


Sunday 4 May 2014

The Camping Trip That Changed America

In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt and naturalist John Muir went on a camping trip that would change America forever.  In the redwoods, they explored uncharted territory and held discussions that led to the establishment of America's National Parks.  Escaping the formal surroundings of the White House, President Roosevelt spends three days in the back country, marvelling at the giant sequoias of Mariposa Grove and the deep valley at Glacier Point.  At one point the two men even brave a snowstorm.  When all is said and done, they decide to declare Yosemite a National Park.   

The Camping Trip that Change America by Barb Rosenstock courtesy

Saturday 3 May 2014

This is the Rope: A Story From the Great Migration

A little girl from South Carolina finds a rope under a tree.  Little does she know that that rope will be passed down from generation to generation in her family.  The rope is used many times by the little girl for skipping. As the family moves north as part of The Great Migration, the rope is used to tie suitcases on top of the car they drive to New York City.  Decades later, the rope is used at a family reunion where the little girl is now a grandmother.  Ransome's beautiful oil paintings illustrate this story that is rich in history.

Note:  For more information on The Great Migration, visit my post from April 9, 2012 at:

Friday 2 May 2014

Martin & Mahalia: His Words, Her Song

In honour of Children's Book Week in Canada, I am posting a series of book reviews on picture books. The first title is Martin & Mahalia:  His Words, Her Song.

"They were born with the gift of the gospel.  Martin's voice kept people in their seats, but also sent their praises soaring.  Mahalia's voice was brass-and-butter -- strong and smooth at the same time.  With Martin's sermons and Mahalia's songs, folks were free to shout, to sing their joy."

On August 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and delivered the riveting "I Have a Dream" speech to thousands of protesters who gathered around the reflecting pool.  Dr. King's speech resonated with the audience, much of which was American blacks who were denied the basic rights of their white counterparts.

Dr. King, a Baptist minister, preached non-violence.  He wanted this protest to be a peaceful one.  But at the same time, he wanted to stir the souls of the audience members.  He brought along his good friend, Mahalia Jackson, to lift them up in song.  The "Queen of Gospel" belted out "How I Got Over" to a crowd of 250,000.  Her powerful voice, which wafted across the reflecting pool on that sunny summer day, gave her audience goose bumps.   

Note:  After I read my daughter Jacqueline Martin & Mahalia, she asked me why the two of them weren't married.  She thought they were the perfect match.

Note:  For more information, read my blog post "I Have a Dream" (August 28, 2011) at

Thursday 1 May 2014

Cherry Blossoms Adrift


Pink petals passing 
Scents above so high
Painted porcelain perfection
Blossoms caress the sky.

Swaying silent shroud
Suitors strolling by
Pink petals passing
Lover's gentle sigh

Pastel hues falling
Slow fluttering grace
Pink petals passing
Lining streams in lace

Pink petals passing
Smoothest transit by
Soft essence floating
In most subtle lullaby

Inducing a springtime slumber
Upon a satin shore
Sailing with the current
Pink petals pass before

Mary Fumento