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Dear Miss Breed: True Stories of the Japanese American Incarceration During World War II and a Librarian Who Made a Difference (book)

Creators: Joanne Oppenheim

Book cover. Courtesy of Scholastic
View in the Densho Encyclopedia

Book for young adult readers by Joanne Oppenheim that tells the story of the wartime incarceration of Japanese Americans through the wartime correspondence between a San Diego librarian and the incarcerated young people whom she had befriended at the library.


Clara Breed (1906-94) was the children's librarian at the San Diego Public Library prior to World War II. In that capacity, she came to know many Nisei children who frequently visited the library, which was located near where many of the city's Japanese Americans lived. Alarmed by forced removal of Japanese American families, Breed saw her young friends off on removal day and passed out stamped postcards, urging them to write to her from the concentration camps. Over the next three years, they wrote to her from the Santa Anita Assembly Center, the Poston , Arizona, concentration camp, and from various other places where they settled after the war. In turn, Breed sent them birthday and Christmas presents and many other items they requested as well as dozens of books.

Author Oppenheim tells the larger story of the forced removal and incarceration through the letters of core group of the youngsters to Breed. While some of the children were in elementary school, most were in high school and one frequent correspondent, Tetsuzo Hirasaki, was in his early twenties. (The letters Breed wrote back were, with one exception, apparently not saved.) Dear Miss Breed is organized more or less chronologically into fifteen chapters stretching from the attack on Pearl Harbor and the rise in anti-Japanese sentiment through removal, life at Santa Anita and Poston, resettlement , the postwar aftermath and redress movement , and the postwar lives of Breed and her correspondents. Oppenheimer fills in the story with excerpts from hearings of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians and with interviews with surviving correspondents and also provides historical background for various episodes mentioned in the letters. She also weaves in material from Breed's scrapbook—Breed was a fan of Eleanor Roosevelt and clipped articles by the First Lady that mention Japanese Americans—and from two sympathetic articles Breed wrote about the Japanese Americans during the war. The final chapter, along with the introduction and afterword, describe how Breed's collection came to the Japanese American National Museum —where it inspired an exhibition and film—and how the author came to discover it. The book is illustrated with many photographs and other material from Breed's collection as well as images from the various correspondents.

Author Background

Author Joanne Oppenheim (1934– ) has authored over fifty books for children in a career that stretches back to the 1960s. Among these are picture books, fiction, and non-fiction, including a series of ten biographies of Native American leaders for Troll Associates. Oppenheimer is also a consumer advocate and president of Oppenheimer Toy Portfolio, which reviews and recommends toys and media for children. She returned to the topic of Japanese Americans in World War II with the book Stanley Hayami, Nisei Son (New York: Brick Tower Press, 2008).

In the book's introduction, Oppenheim writes that she came across Breed's story while searching for a Nisei classmate while planning a high school reunion. Taken by the story, she examined the letters and other parts of Breed's collection at the Japanese American National Museum and tracked down and interviewed many of the people who communicated with Breed. She spent five years working on the book, during which time she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Historical Accuracy

Dear Miss Breed is well researched and has apparently been vetted by knowledgeable readers, so there are few historical errors. Among the minor issues: A claim that Issei arrested by the FBI "were given no hearing" (page 27) is false; though of the token variety, these internees did receive hearings. The author later claims that Japanese Americans "produced and distributed three-quarters of the food in California" (38); while they did produce large percentages of particular crops, this stated percentage is far too high. The Western Defense Command is called the "West Coast Defense Command" (41). In the postwar section, it is claimed that in 1948, "California's alien land acts that had prohibited Issei from owning land were remove..." (250); though the Supreme Court decision in that year on the Oyama case made the land laws largely unenforceable, they remained on the books.

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho


Broderick, Patricia, and Allen Raymond. "Teaching Talks, Products We Especially Like: 35 and Counting." Teaching Pre K-8 , May 2006, 48.

Bush, Elizabeth. Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 59.7 (March 2006): 323.

Bush, Margaret A. The Horn Book Magazine , Mar.-Apr., 2006, 207–08.

Kirkus Reviews , Dec. 15, 2005, 1326.

Mattson, Jennifer. Booklist , Jan. 1 & 15, 2006, 93.

Scott, Karen. Library Media Connection , Nov.-Dec., 2006, 83.

Spencer, Patti Sylvester. VOYA , Feb. 2006, 513.

Taniguchi, Marilyn. School Library Journal , Mar. 2006, 246


  1. Patti Sylvester Spencer, VOYA , Feb. 2006, 513; Patricia Broderick, and Allen Raymond, "Teaching Talks, Products We Especially Like: 35 and Counting," Teaching Pre K-8 , May 2006, 48; Jennifer Mattson, Booklist , Jan. 1 & 15, 2006, 93; Kirkus Reviews , Dec. 15, 2005, 1326; Elizabeth Bush, Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 59.7 (March 2006): 323.
  2. Kirkus Reviews ; Margaret A. Bush, The Horn Book Magazine , Mar.-Apr. 2006, 207–08; E. Bush, Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books ; Marilyn Taniguchi, School Library Journal , Mar. 2006, 246; Mattson, Booklist ; E. Bush, Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books .
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Find in the Digital Library of Japanese American Incarceration

Media Details
Author Joanne Oppenheim
Pages 287
Publication Date 2006
Awards YALSA Best Books for Young Adults award nomination, American Library Association, 2007
For More Information

For More Information

Publisher website: .

Author website. .

Clara Breed Collection. Japanese American National Museum. .

Westcott, Patrick, and Martha Graham Viator. "'Dear Miss Breed': Using Primary Documents to Advance Student Understanding of Japanese Internment Camps." Social Education 72.4 (May-June 2008): 198–202.



Reviews for Dear Miss Breed were mixed. While some reviewers found it inspiring and memorable and praised it for its research and primary materials, others found it too detailed and overreaching in its analysis. Writing in VOYA, Patti Sylvester Spencer concluded that "Fortunate social studies students will find themselves immersed in this engaging and poignant personal history, demonstrating that a single person can, indeed, make a significant difference in the lives of many. Memorable? Absolutely." Patricia Broderick and Allen Raymond called the book "outstanding.... Really a must-read" in Teaching Pre K-8 , adding that it would be "a great read-aloud we think you'll enjoy as much as the children will." Jennifer Mattson in Booklist praised "its sheer quantity of accessible, exhaustively researched information about a troubling period, more resonant now than ever, when American ideals were compromised by fear and unfortunate racial assumptions," a sentiment echoed in Kirkus Reviews . Elizabeth Bush in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books also praised the "treasure trove of primary source material representing a range of experiences and attitudes." [1]

However, several reviewers found it too long and detailed. (Kirkus: "repetitive or overstuffed with minor details"; Horn Book Magazine: "lengthy and somewhat repetitive"; Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books : "an overwritten text, often repetitive and padded with facts and observations that don't always advance the narrative.") Marilyn Taniguchi in School Library Journal cites "a lack of clarity and focus," and Mattson in Booklist finds that "the recurring discussion of professional concerns facing Breed... often seems to cater too obviously to Oppenheim's adult readers." Elizabeth Bush cites "a problematic tendency to 'read' misery into many upbeat letters rather than to closely examine reasons why correspondents may not have groused as loudly as Oppenheim seems to expect...." [2]