Sylvia & Aki is Conkling’s debut novel based on a moving true story of racism from two different perspectives during WWII. Aki is an American citizen with Japanese ancestry whose family owns an asparagus farm in California where she attends Westminster Elementary School. When Pearl Harbor is bombed her family is forced into an internment camp in Arizona.
Sylvia is an American citizen with Mexican and Puerto Rican ancestry whose family rents the asparagus farm Aki’s family had to abandon. Sylvia and her brothers are not allowed to attend Westminster Elementary School. Instead they are forced to attend Hoover Mexican School near the Barrio.
The girls are initially connected through a school photograph and Japanese doll Sylvia finds in her bedroom closet. “This was Aki’s photograph; this was Aki’s bedroom. So Keiko must have been Aki’s doll, before she had to go away.” When Sylvia travels with her father to the internment camp to deliver the rent for the farm to Aki’s family the two girls meet and begin to exchange letters.
The book is written in alternating viewpoints as one girl longs to go home with her family and the other longs to get the kind of education she and her father dreamed of for her.
A generous Afterword gives details about the landmark legal battle that Sylvia’s father waged on behalf of schoolchildren, about internment camps, and about school segregation.
—Kari Baumbach, children’s literature enthusiast
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