“Grandma, what do you mean when you say,
‘Our family lost everything?’”
Cousins Lou and Charlotte have never called their grandma “Obaasan”—the Japanese word for grandmother. In fact, they are coming to realize that there is a lot they don’t know about their beloved Grandma’s life. When she invites them to spend the day planting in her garden, the girls know this is their chance to learn more about the secrets of their family’s past.
Grandma shares stories of her childhood in Vancouver and her experience as a Japanese Canadian during WWII, revealing the painful story of Japanese internment. Her family was forced apart. Whole communities were uprooted from their homes, moved into camps and ghost towns, their belongings stolen.
Lou and Charlotte struggle to understand how their family could have been treated so terribly by their own country, even as they marvel at their grandmother’s strength and resilience. The girls begin to see how their identities have been shaped by racism, and that history is not only about the past.
Written by cousins Lara Jean Okihiro and Janis Bridger, Obaasan’s Boots is based on the true story of their Japanese Canadian grandparents who, in 1942, along with 22,000 others, were forced from their homes and sent to an internment camp. Teaching readers about the Japanese Canadian internment, the book provides details of the event, and of the racism that existed before and beyond it.
The story also explores the impact the experience has had on later generations and is full of social emotional learning as the children deal with the mysterious silences that surround their family’s past, the strong disagreements between family members, family separation, lost language, and the trauma they’ve inherited.
The book is suitable for readers of all ages who are interested in learning more about Nikkei internment in North America, Canadian history and WWII, anti-Asian racism, intergenerational relationships, and family stories.
The book includes
- An Historical Timeline of WWII events for people of Japanese heritage in North America;
- An Afterword that explains the background of the story, why it was important for the authors to write the story, and connections to other events in Canadian history;
- And historical Photos.
About the authors
Lara Jean Okihiro is a writer, researcher, and educator of mixed Japanese Canadian heritage living in Toronto. Intrigued by the power and magic of stories, she earned a Master’s (Goldsmiths, University of London) and a Doctorate (University of Toronto) in English. Living abroad inspired her to learn about her family’s internment experience. She has lectured and published internationally on literature, the Japanese Canadian internment, issues of racism, memory, trauma, and education. Lara’s diverse creative work emphasizes social justice and carrying the lessons of the past into the future. She is currently working on another book inspired by her family’s experience called Lost Objects: Literature and the Dispossession of Incarcerated Nikkei (McGill-Queens University Press).
Janis Bridger is an educator and writer who has many creative outlets and a love for the outdoors. She lives in Vancouver, Canada, close to where her Japanese Canadian grandparents lived before being interned. Janis earned a diploma in Professional Photography (Langara College), and a Master of Education (University of Alberta), specializing in teacher-librarianship. Social justice, diversity, and kindness are paramount in her life and embedded in her everyday teaching.
School / community author visits:
Lara is available for school and community visits, in-person in the Toronto area, and virtually for schools and community groups outside of the GTA.
She can apply for funding for such visits through The Writers’ Union of Canada
If you’re interested in having Lara visit your school, contact email@example.com
Praise for Obaasan's Boots
“A book that so beautifully captures the intimate and ongoing effects of internment on post war Japanese Canadian families. Bridger and Okihiro fully inhabit the idea that ‘history is not only about the past’ by tracing its present-day echoes and reverberations—in gardens, at dinner tables and through everyday familial relationships.”
– Kyo Maclear, author of Virginia Wolf, The Wish Tree, It Began with a Page, and Unearthing.
“The book’s strongest and most valuable aspect is its poignant and candid representation of the historical injustices endured by Canada’s Japanese communities during the Second World War. … The book is an important contribution to the existing body of literature for young readers that focus on significant periods of Canadian history. It provides a positive message about connecting with the past and feeling proud of one’s roots.”
– Huai-Yang Lim, CM: Canadian Review of Materials
Press and more about the novel
Listen to and excerpt from Obaasan’s Boots
From the Animate Companionship: Literature and Education panel discussion
Here are some old family photos that inspired the novel. Thanks to family members for sharing!