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So Far From the Bamboo Grove

Kawashima Watkins

Theme: Self-Reliance
Grades: Grades 7-8


Summary:
In this memoir, Yoko Kawashima Watkins describes a Japanese family's odyssey from Korea to Japan amid the havoc at the end of WWII. Forced to abandon their home in northern Korea, eleven-year-old Yoko, her older sister, and her mother are plunged into the horrors of war. They become refugees, desperately trying to elude the Korean Communists and escape to Japan. Although Yoko and her sister endure extreme hardships-including the unexpected death of their mother-their strength of spirit enables them to prevail. Symbolic of their victory is Yoko's winning first prize in an essay contest in Kyoto, Japan. At the conclusion of the memoir, Yoko and her sister are reunited with their brother Hideyo, who also has managed to escape from Korea.


THEME OPENERS
  1. Life Map.
    So Far from the Bamboo Grove describes Yoko's journey from Nanam to Kyoto and suggests her journey from childhood to young adulthood. Invite students to create maps showing their own "life journeys." Encourage students to select and reflect on the events that they consider most important in shaping their lives today.
  1. What If?
    Discuss with students the definition of "refugee": one who flees in search of refuge, as from war or political opression. Have students consider how their lives would change should they suddenly become "refugees." Where would they go? What would they do? Who could they depend on for help?
CROSSCURRICULAR ACTIVITIES
  1. Emergency!
    The Kawashimas must leave home fast, taking only what they can carry in backpacks. If students were in a similar situation, what would they take? Give them a time limit to make a list of items, including food, that they would need for two days as evacuees. Then have them discuss their lists. Challenge volunteers (with parent permission) to pack their items and live out of their packs for one or two weekend days at home.

  1. To Stay or Not to Stay ?
    Yoko has a future to think about. Should she stay in school? Should she drop out, if only temporarily, to aid Ko in earning the money they desperately need? Let students help her decide. Have them create a newspaper advice column in which Yoko writes for advice and student "columnists" respond. If computer facilities are available, students can lay out and print their work in a newspaper format.
RESEARCH ASSIGNMENTS
  1. Compare/Contrast.
    Point out to your students that Japanese people living in Korea became displaced persons during World War II; instruct them to find out about the experiences of Japanese-Americans in the United States during these years. Tell them to use their research to write a comparison and contrast paper, relating the experiences of both groups.
  1. Refugees.
    Instruct students to research modern-day refugee conditions around the world. They can visit Amnesty International's website (www.refuge.amnesty.org) or use other websites, the library, or textbooks for their research. Challenge them to find an account of a family or individual with a situation similar to Yoko and her family—who had to rely on their own resources and strength of spirit to survive—and have them write a report about the family or individual