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The Cat Who Chose to Dream (book)

Book cover. Courtesy of Martin Pearl Publishing
View in the Densho Encyclopedia

Children's picture book about a cat who accompanies his Japanese American family to an American concentration camp during World War II.

Jimmy is a cat that manages to accompany his family to an unspecified concentration camp during World War II. Initially angry and sad, Jimmy copes with his confinement by dreaming of more pleasant things: Japanese koi (carp), mountains, a temple in Japan, a snow tiger, a dragon, and a rabbit that can leave the camp. Years later, Jimmy recalls his time in the camp with his kitten.

Written by Loriene Honda, the book utilizes the artwork of Jimmy Tsutomu Mirikitani with graphic design by Mark Deamer. George Takei contributes the foreword. The main text of the book is followed by a set of discussion questions, information on the incarceration of Japanese Americans and on Mirikitani, and full versions of the fifteen Mirikitani drawings that were adapted for the book. The publisher's website includes additional lesson plans.

A psychotherapist who specializes in children who have experienced trauma, Honda was inspired both by the children she had worked with and by former inmates: Mirikitani; Ralph Lazo , a non-Japanese American teenager who had voluntarily gone to Manzanar to be with his Japanese American friends; and her father, Lawrence Honda, who had also been in Manzanar as a teenager. "I knew I wanted to find some way of bridging all of these areas," she told Anne Ternus-Bellamy. "Child trauma and transcending it, but also the internment camp history, learning the lessons from the people who survived it." She learned of Miriktani's story from the 2006 documentary about him, The Cats of Mirikitani , and was able to secure his permission to use his art. Working backwards to craft a story based on Mirikitani's drawings, she drew on Lazo's story: Jimmy, the cat—named after the artist—would also be a witness to his family's incarceration. Like other survivors of trauma, Jimmy learns "that in surviving the camps, or surviving child trauma ... there is so much you can't control, but you can control your imagination." Mirikitani passed away in 2012, prior to the completion of the book, and the book is dedicated to him and to the author's family members. Graphic designer Mark Deamer adapted Mirikitani's drawings for the book, at times making "slight alterations to many of Miriktani's original drawings to more clearly illustrate key themes and scenes." [1]

The history as presented in the book is generally accurate. There is one misstatement in "The Incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II" section: ""Not a single American of Japanese ancestry was found guilty of treason." In fact there were several Japanese Americans convicted of treason or of conspiracy to commit treason: Iva Toguri d'Aquino , Tomoya Kawakita , and the Shitara Sisters .

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho


  1. "Insight with Beth Ruyak," Capitol Public Radio, Apr. 3, 2014, ; Anne Ternus-Bellamy, "'The Cat Who Chose to Dream': From Art Comes Hope," The Davis Enterprise , Feb. 26, 2013, , both accessed o accessed on April 10, 2017. Quotes come from the latter.
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Find in the Digital Library of Japanese American Incarceration

The Cat Who Chose to Dream

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

Might also like: A Place Where Sunflowers Grow by Amy Lee-Tai; The Bracelet by Yoshiko Uchida; Blue Jay in the Desert by Marlene Shigekawa

Media Details
Author Loriene Honda
Illustrator Jimmy Tsutomu Mirikitani
Pages 40
Publication Date 2014
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