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A Fence Away From Freedom: Japanese-Americans and World War II (book)

Creators: Ellen Levine

Book cover. Courtesy of G. P. Putnam's Sons
View in the Densho Encyclopedia

Book for young adults that tells the story of the wartime removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans through the oral history voices of those who were children and young adults at the time.


A Fence Away From Freedom is divided into ten chapters, along with introductory materials and an epilogue. Each chapter is devoted to a specific topic and features short excerpts from relevant interviews, combined with explanatory material by the author. While many chapters cover standard aspects of the story, from the attack on Pearl Harbor to life in the camps to the story of Nisei soldiers, Levine also focuses on some less well-known stories. These include short chapters devoted to the Manzanar Children's Village , an orphanage in Manzanar , featuring accounts by a women who was briefly held there and by a former staff person, and one on Japanese Peruvian inmates, featuring interviews with five people who were brought to U.S. concentration camps with their families as children from Peru. A lengthy chapter on resistance features the story of draft resistance , Tule Lake , and the renunciation of citizenship. The last chapter looks at the redress movement and the various threads that led up to it, while the interviewees reflect on the legacy of the incarceration in the epilogue. Supplementary materials include a glossary, chronology, map of camp sites, short biographies of the interviewees, and brief bibliography. The book also includes a fourteen-page section with period photographs of most of the interviewees.

The full list of interviewees: Amy Akiyama, Avey Diaz (a Mexican American married to a mixed race Nisei who accompanied her to Santa Anita), Nami Nakashima Diaz, Frank Emi , Elsa Higashide, Amy Hiratzka, Sohei Hohri, Chieko Kato, Mits Koshiyama, Sue Kunitomi , Yosh Kuromiya, Libia Maoki, Mary Matsuno, Jim Matsuoka, Betty Morita, Tetsuko Morita, Dollie Nagai, Bert Nakano, Angie Nakashima, Joe Norikane, Mary Sakaguchi, Don Seki, Sumi Seo, Art Shibayama, Fusa Shibayama, Lillian Sugita, Mac Sumimoto, Ben Tagami, Noburu Taguma, Yukio Tatsumi, Harry Ueno , Ernest Uno, Kay Uno, Clifford Uyeda , and Morgan Yamanaka. Many were well-known in the community at the time, whether as figures known for their resistance activities while in camp or for their redress movement activism.

Additional Information

Author Ellen Levine (1939–2012) had been a filmmaker and photographer who later became a public interest lawyer. Starting in her late forties, she began authoring books for young people, many of which focused on history and on civil rights related topics, with her best known book likely Freedom's Children: Young Civil Rights Activists Tell Their Own Stories (1993), which won the Jane Addams Peace Award.

In the book's preface, Levine wrote that she was urged to write the A Fence Away From Freedom by friends who lived in Cody, Wyoming, near the site of the Heart Mountain camp. She visited the site in 1992 and went on to interview many former inmates from the various concentration camps. While most ranged in age from six to the early twenties, she also interviewed some adults who were key historical figures in the camps, such as Harry Ueno (35 at the time of his incarceration) and Frank Emi (25). Interviews with thirty-five people are featured in the book.

The book is well researched and contains only a few minor errors: famed journalist James Omura and his wife Caryl are referred to as brother and sister (page 31); Joe Grant Masaoka is described as a "JACL lawyer" (though he worked for the Japanese American Citizens League , Masaoka was not a lawyer) (136); and the the War Relocation Authority is listed in a chart of acronyms as the "War Relocation Administration" (241).

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho

Might also like The Invisible Thread by Yoshiko Uchida; Dear Miss Breed: True Stories of the Japanese American Incarceration During World War II and a Librarian Who Made a Difference by Joanne Oppenheim; Fred Korematsu Speaks Up by Laura Atkins and Stan Yogi

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Find in the Digital Library of Japanese American Incarceration

A Fence Away from Freedom

This item has been made freely available in the Digital Library of Japanese American Incarceration , a collaborative project with Internet Archive .

Media Details
Author Ellen Levine
Pages 260
Publication Date 1995
Awards Carter G. Woodson Book Award: Secondary, 1996


Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books , Nov. 1995, 97.

Bush, Margaret A. Horn Book , March-April, 1996, 226. ["The emotional resonance of the personal histories, along with the detailed information about camp life, politics, and postwar events, makes the book a rich resource."]

Kirkus Reviews , Oct. 17, 1995.

Pauli, David N. School Library Journal , Dec. 1995, 137. ["This is an excellent source of information about a period of our history that is just beginning to be fully examined.]

Rochman, Hazel. Booklist , Oct. 1, 1995, 302.

Smith, William J. Book Report , March-April 1996, 55. ["This well-researched book reveals little known facts about the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II and its aftermath."]

Voice of Youth Advocates , Feb. 1996, 398.