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Home of the Brave (book)

Creators: Allen Say

Book cover. Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin
View in the Densho Encyclopedia

Children's picture book by Allen Say inspired by the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II.

Home of the Brave begins with an unnamed Asian American man preparing to kayak down a river. But then the river turns to rapids, and he falls down a waterfall. Losing the kayak and all his gear, he finds himself in an underground river. Stepping out of the river onto a bank, he finds a ladder leading to a shaft of light. Climbing up, he exits to a desert scene that he initially assumes is an Indian reservation, with ruins of a building and two human figures. Going closer, he sees that they are two little Japanese Americans girls, both wearing coats and tags, as in the famous photograph by Dorothea Lange . They tell him they came from "the camp." He goes with them to search for help, but they hit a dust storm. When the dust clears, they find themselves before a sea of barracks against a mountain backdrop, resembling Ansel Adams ' photographs of Manzanar . Going into one, he finds it empty, except for a tag like the ones the girls wear, with his name on it. Going back outside, he finds many Japanese American children with tags, the guard towers and searchlights that blind him. When his sight comes back, he finds a single tag with his mother's name on it. Climbing into a hole in the ground, he falls asleep; upon waking, he finds children—who appear to be Native American—with his kayak and name tags on the ground. A gust of wind blow the tags away, and he releases the two tags he carries with them. The last page includes a brief statement by the author. In each set of pages, Say's watercolor painting takes up the entire right page, while the text—amid much white space—takes up the left.

An acclaimed author and illustrator of children's books, Allen Say was born in Yokohama, Japan, in 1937. His mother, Masako Moriwaki, was a Nisei from Oakland, California, who accompanied her Issei parents to Japan after graduating high school. While working for a department store in Osaka, she met Say's father, a Korean who had been raised in Shanghai by an English family. After spending the war years in Japan, Say's parents divorced, sending him on an odyssey that saw him split time between Japan and the U.S. while pursuing an interest in art and photography. After a stint in the U.S. Army in the early 1960s, he pursued a career as a commercial photographer, which eventually led to freelance illustration as well. He has written and illustrated twenty-one books for children since 1972, several of which are autobiographical. His illustrations for Dianne Snyder's The Boy of the Three Year Nap was a Caldecott Honor book in 1988 ad his 1994 book Grandfather's Journey —based on his Issei grandfather's story—won the Caldecott Medal. Home of the Brave was his sixteenth book. [1]

Though he had no personal connection to the wartime incarceration of Japanese Americans, he was inspired by an exhibition at the Japanese American National Museum (JANM) (most likely Common Ground: The Heart of Community ) that he saw repeatedly when that museum featured a retrospective exhibition on Say's work. As with all of his books, he began with the paintings and originally envisioned a love story until the exhibition caused him take the story "in another direction." After seeing the famous photograph by Dorothea Lange of the Mochida family, "I kept looking at the picture, and I was very much haunted by these two girls in the photo," he said in a Scholastic interview. "It occurred to me to lift the two girls out of the photograph and introduce them into my book. I decided to use the two girls in my book, and the story evolved." He told Jennifer M. Brown in Publishers Weekly , "I'm a war child, so I saw the war through a child's eyes. Home of the Brave is an indictment against the world—I suppose, the adult world. It's always the children who suffer the most." [2]

Reviews for the book were mixed. While many reviewers praised the art and the provocative message, others were unsatisfied with the book's ambiguity and expressed worry that young readers would not understand it.

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho


  1. "Allen Say," Contemporary Authors Online , Gale, 2016; Maria Kwong, Allen Say biography, ; "Allen Say Interview Transcript 1," Scholastic website, , all accessed on December 1, 2016.
  2. "Allen Say Interview Transcript 1," Scholastic; Jennifer M. Brown, "PW Talks with Allen Say," Publishers Weekly , Feb. 25, 2002, 65.
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Find in the Digital Library of Japanese American Incarceration

Home of the Brave

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

Might also like: So Far from the Sea by Eve Bunting; The Journey by Sheila Hamanaka; Blue Jay in the Desert by Marlene Shigekawa

Media Details
Author Allen Say
Pages 32
Publication Date 2002
For More Information

For More Information

Brown, Jennifer M. "PW Talks with Allen Say." Publishers Weekly , Feb. 25, 2002, 65.

" Allen Say Interview Transcript 1 ." Scholastic website.



Book Links , March 2004, 15. ["The children in this story guide the adult toward truth and understanding, an empowering message for young readers."]

Kirkus Reviews , Apr. 15, 2002, 578. ["The images are photographic and hauntingly beautiful, but the symbolism is not always clear, especially for a child reader who lacks historical context. While providing much to speculate on, this will probably find its rightful audience with teens and adults."]

Lymer, Debbie. Library Talk , Nov./Dec. 2002, 38. ["Say's story is very thought provoking and yet, disturbing."]

Noriyuki, Duane. "Land of the Free." Los Angeles Times , Apr. 21, 2002. ["Say's use of darkness in the portrayal of childhood innocence is a poignant interpretation of what children, whatever their culture, must feel when so tiny and scared and far from where they long to be."]

Padua, Jose. New York Times , May 19, 2002. ["What Say does so successfully here is to show how displaced children feel; how, through some unnamed strength, they manage to survive and find their way home. Although it may be clear to adults that what we're seeing here refers to a historical moment, this book isn't meant to be a history lesson. It's more like a preparation for the history lesson."]

Publishers Weekly , Feb. 25, 2002, 64. ["Much remains enigmatic: most children will require the aid of an older reader to make sense of the historical context, and may be put off by the dark and lonely vistas. However, the images create an internal logic of their own, as emotionally convincing as any waking experience."]

Rochman, Hazel. Booklist , Feb. 15, 2002, 1015–17. ["The watercolor paintings are spellbinding, evoking the desert and mountains of Ansel Adams' photos and also the edgy close-ups of the surrealist painters. But what does it all mean?.... Say is just too elliptical this time—and yet he does pose troubling questions about the West as the land of the free and the home of the brave."]

Saccardi, Marianne. School Library Journal , March, 2002, 238. ["While Say strives to call attention to the plight of Japanese-Americans unjustly interred (sic) in camps during World War II, this enigmatic picture book may serve only to confuse."]

Stevenson, Deborah. The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 55.10 (June 2002): 382. ["From the text and the author's note, this seems to be a deeply felt personal response to the internment camps, but the allegorical approach is unfortunately more distancing and confusing than enlightening, leaving contextless young readers floundering."]

Yokota, Junko, and Mingshui Cai. "Children's Books That Encourage Reflection." Language Arts 80.2 (Nov. 2002): 148–53. ["The illustrations are quiet and haunting and effectively echo the mysterious mood of the story. The closing line sums up the power of this story, and the opportunity to think about its impact is not to be missed."]