Joy Kogawa and Ruth Ohi's Naomi's Tree

Naomi's Tree is a children's book with story by Joy Kogawa and illustrations by Ruth Ohi. The story is based on Kogawa's life and her rediscovery of her childhood home decades after her family was removed from Vancouver during the WWII quarantining of Japanese Canadians. That rediscovery has led to the movement to make the Historic Joy Kogawa House a historical site and writer-in-residence program.

The children's story focuses on the cherry tree planted outside this house, beginning first with a fairy-tale like story of cherry trees and their pink blossoms in Japan. These trees, known as Friendship Trees, serve to bring families and communities together with their beauty and their sweet fruit.

A young bride takes a cherry seed with her to Canada and plants it with her husband outside their new home. The tree grows along with the family. Young Naomi and Stephen enjoy the tree with their parents until one day suddenly, they are forced to pack up their belongings and move away from the tree and house. The story offers snapshots of Naomi's life in the ensuing half century in the interior and east coast of Canada. When she finally returns to the house and finds it empty, she discovers that the tree is stil there. The story makes the tree a symbol of endurance and memory.

The book is a beautiful little story, if a bit melancholy. Like other great children's stories, it manages to find a strand of beauty in an otherwise dark narrative. Though children in the target audience may not be able to process the full meaning of Japanese Canadian dispossession during and after WWII, this story plants the seed for future understanding and questioning.
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