Reviewed by Rethinking Schools
Book Author: Winifred Conkling
This historical novel for middle school readers is based on the true stories of Sylvia Mendez and Aki Munemitsu Nakauchi, who were 3rd graders during World War II. When Aki’s family is forced to leave their home in Westminster, Calif., for a Japanese American internment camp in Arizona, the Mendez family moves into their home. Sylvia Mendez looks forward to her first day of school, only to be told she and her siblings cannot enroll, although her lighter skinned cousins can.
This leads to the groundbreaking Mendez v Westminster desegregation lawsuit that preceded Brown v Board of Education. Meanwhile, Aki worries every day about her father, who is interned separately for most of the war. The chapters alternate between the experiences of Sylvia and Aki, introducing readers to the daily injustices of internment and school segregation.
Sylvia and Aki by Winifred Conkling
Published by Tricycle Press on 2011
Genres: Asian American, Civil Rights Movement, Friendship, Historical Fiction, Latinx, School, U.S. History
Reading Level: Grades 3-5, Grades 6-8
Review Source: Rethinking Schools
Buy at Powell's Books
Publisher's synopsis: Sylvia never expected to be at the center of a landmark legal battle--all she wanted was to enroll in school. Aki never expected to be relocated to a Japanese internment camp in the Arizona desert; all she wanted was to stay on her family farm and finish the school year. The two girls certainly never expected to know each other, until their lives intersected in Southern California during a time when their country changed forever. Here is the remarkable story based on true events of Sylvia Mendez and Aki Munemitsu, two ordinary girls living in extraordinary times. When Sylvia and her brothers are not allowed to register at the same school Aki attended and are instead sent to a "Mexican" school, the stage is set for Sylvia's father to challenge in court the separation of races in California's schools. Ultimately, Mendez vs. Westminster School District led to the desegregation of California schools and helped build the case that would end school segregation nationally. Through extensive interviews with Sylvia and Aki--still good friends to this day--Winifred Conkling brings to life two stories of persistent courage in the face of tremendous odds.