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So Far from the Sea (book)

Creators: Eve Bunting, Chris K. Soentpiet

Book cover. Courtesy of Clarion Books
View in the Densho Encyclopedia

Children's picture book by Eve Bunting about a Japanese American family's pilgrimage to Manzanar in 1972.

Told in the first person voice of seven-year-old Laura Iwasaki, the story follows the Iwasaki family's trip to Manzanar—the fourth one Laura remembers—to visit the grave of her paternal grandfather, Shiro Iwasaki, who died at Manzanar and is buried there. It will be their last trip for a while, since the family will be moving to Boston. A fisherman before the war, Shiro lost his boat and his family's home due to the mass incarceration. Laura's father, Koharu, was eight at the time of the incarceration; her unnamed mother had been at Heart Mountain . When they get to the Manzanar site, they park the car and walk to the memorial and to her grandfather's grave. Before they leave, Laura leaves her father's old Boy Scout neckerchief at the grave, a reminder of how Shiro had Koharu wear his Boy Scout uniform on the day they were removed from their home to demonstrate his Americanism.

Watercolor illustrations by Chris K. Soentpiet—color for the 1972 scenes and black & white for the scenes set during World War II—take up five-sixths of each two-page spread, with Bunting's text limited to one-third of one page (the left page in all but one case). A brief afterword notes the Executive Order 9066 , Manzanar, and the setting of the story told in the book. (Its description of EO9066—"It stated that all people of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast of the United States must be placed in relocation camps"—is not technically correct. While the executive order made the forced removal and subsequent incarceration of Japanese Americans possible, there is no mention of "Japanese" or of "relocation camps" in the order itself.)

Author Eve Bunting (1928– ) was born in Northern Ireland and immigrated to the U.S. with her husband and three children in 1959, eventually settling in Pasadena, California. After taking a class in writing for publication at the local community college, she published her first book for children in 1972. She has since published over 250 books in a wide variety of genres and for various age groups. Many of her early books were set in Northern Ireland and many later books came to feature protagonists of different ethnic groups. She is best known for the picture book Smoky Night (1994), illustrated by David Diaz, set during the 1992 Los Angeles riot/uprising, which won the 1995 Caldecott Medal. [1] Illustrator Soentpiet (1970– ) was born in South Korea and adopted by an American family in Hawaii when he was eight. He has written and illustrated over twenty children's books and illustrated many others. [2]

Reviews for So Far from the Sea were uniformly positive, with many noting the power of Soentpiet's illustrations. Two reviewers pointed out the need for adults to explain the historical context and time shifting elements in reading the book to children. [3]

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho


  1. "Eve Bunting," Contemporary Authors Online , Gale, 2013, accessed on Nov. 2, 2016 at
  2. Chris Soentpiet website, accessed on Nov. 2, 2016 at .
  3. Hazel Rochman, Booklist , May 1, 1998, 1522; Janice M. Del Negro, Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 51 (July/August 1998): 389.
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Find in the Digital Library of Japanese American Incarceration

So Far from the Sea

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

Might also like: Home of the Brave by Allen Say; The Journey by Sheila Hamanaka; The Cat Who Chose to Dream by Loriene Honda

Media Details
Author Eve Bunting
Illustrator Chris K. Soentpiet
Pages 32
Publication Date 1998
Awards Notable Books for a Global Society, 1999, <i>Reading Teacher</i>


Brabander, Jennifer M. Horn Book Magazine 74.3 (May/June 1998), 329. ["An afterword provides brief information but, like the text, tells only a piece of the story, making no mention, for instance, of the long struggle for reparations that gained momentum in the 1970s. Portraying both the starkness of the landscape and the camp and the beauty of the snow-covered mountains in the background, the watercolors have a photographic quality that suits the story's realism. Frequent scenes from the camp in 1942, presented in black and white, will guide young readers through the flashbacks in the text. The point of view expressed by Laura's father—one shared by many internees because of the shame they felt—is not often seen in books on this topic, and could provide plenty of room for discussion of changing historiographical and cultural expectations."]

Chang, Margaret A. School Library Journal , June 1998, 97. ["Soentpiet's impressionistic watercolors perfectly complement Bunting's evocative text. Both create a palpable sense of Manzanar as it is today: a windy, isolated place, its buildings gone, dominated by snow-covered mountains."]

Del Negro, Janice M. Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 51 (July/August 1998): 389. ["Bunting does a creditable job of negotiating the delicate matter of blame, as the family's dialogue points out that I a war there is plenty of that commodity to go around. Soentpiet's richly detailed paintings switch from full color in family scenes to a film noir-ish black and white for the war years, a device which makes it easier for children with little knowledge of these events to sort out action from memory. There is a contemporary look and sound to this account, and careful attention to the concluding note (or some timely adult intervention) may be necessary to adjust reader's understanding of the dates of the war and the fictional family's memorial visit in 1972."]

Freeman, Evelyn B., Barbara A. Lehman, and Patricia L. Scharer. "Children's Books: Enduring Themes." Reading Teacher 52.8 (May 1999): 867. ["Chris K. Soentpiet's black-and-white watercolor illustrations of life in the 1940s painfully contrast with colorful painting of the family's journey."]

Kirkus Reviews , Apr. 15, 1998. ["Bunting’s spare prose effectively matches the developmental level of the ages for which this book is geared, and will generate questions that both educators and parents will find difficult to answer. Stark watercolors of the present alternate with black-and-white drawings representing scenes from the past. Together, text and illustrations create and sustain a mood of reflection and reminiscence suited to the topic."]

Publishers Weekly , Apr. 20, 1998, 66–67. ["Soentpiet's portrait of the uniformed boy respectfully saluting the soldiers as his mournful parents embrace is only one of numerous wrenching images that will haunt readers long after the last page is turned. Rendered with striking clarity, the artist's watercolors recreate two vastly different settings...."]

Rochman, Hazel. Booklist , May 1, 1998, 1522. ["Adults will need to explain the historical settings to kids; that is, the story is set in 1972 and the memories are of 1942. There is much to talk about."]