Blue Jay in the Desert (book)
Creators: Marlene Shigekawa, Isao Kikuchi (illustrator)
Book cover. Courtesy of Polychrome
View in the Densho Encyclopedia
Blue Jay in the Desert by Marlene Shigekawa and illustrated by Isao Kikuchi is a children's picture book about how the gift of a hand-carved wooden blue jay symbolizes the love and hope a grandfather gives to his grandson.
Everyone incarcerated at Poston admires the handiwork of Grandfather's wooden carvings. He tells Junior that he is carving something special for him—a blue jay. Junior wonders why not a grander bird, like an eagle or a crane? But Grandfather tells him that his careful choice of a blue jay has significance. So Junior asks many friends and neighbors for any information they know about blue jays, but he still can't quite figure it out.
One day, neighboring Mojave Indians visit the camp perimeter and present Junior's father with a small sack of corn, saying that it is "to plant to help feed your people." The Mojave empathize with the plight of the Japanese Americans saying that they understand what it feels like "to be moved away from our homes." Father is grateful, bows respectfully, and plants the precious seeds in their victory garden. That night Junior thinks of how grandfather told him how the Mojave were on this land long before Columbus came to America, and he dreams of flying on the back of a giant blue jay home to California.
Junior awakens and runs to tell grandfather that he thinks he understands his choice of a blue jay: it is because just like Junior and everyone else being held in the camp, a blue jay does not belong in the desert. Grandfather smiles and tells him that blue jays are also like the Japanese: they are loyal, brave, and have a knack for survival. "Let this blue jay help you remember who you are and where you came from," he says. Then father shares the happy news that an announcement has been made that they can finally leave the camp.
Blue Jay in the Desert was published by the Polychrome Publishing Corporation in 1993. The author Marlene Shigekawa was born in Poston, Arizona, and the illustrator Isao Kikuchi was incarcerated at Manzanar and served with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team .