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July 31, 2007 > Book Reviews

Book Reviews

"The Bake Shop Ghost" by Jacqueline K. Ogburn and Marjorie A. Priceman, Houghton Mifflin hardback, $16.00. (2005)

It's rare to find a ghost story that isn't too scary for young people, or so ridiculous that it becomes boring. This one hits the mark with the ghost of baker Miss Cora Lee Merriweather. Never a really friendly outgoing person, Miss Merriweather poured all her affection and energy into making the best cakes and pies. When she dies the town mourns the loss of her recipes.

For a time it seems that no one will be able to take over her shop. Several chefs try, but the cranky ghost of Miss Meriweather drives them away in short order. Enter Annie Washington, a fabulous baker who used to work for a cruise ship. Determined that no ghost is going to drive her away, she soon is driven to distraction by Miss Meriweather's tricks. Finally in exasperation, she asks the ghost what it will take to have peace in the bakery. Miss Meriweather wants a cake! Not just any cake, oh no. It'll have to be the best cake ever - how on earth is Annie going to come up with that? The illustrations of the Bake Shop Ghost are just a little scary - not nightmarish - and the tricks she plays are of the kitchen-pest variety. Annie is brilliant and funny, and children will have fun trying to guess what cake she'll come up with. There's a very satisfying twist at the end.

A perfect ghost book for kindergarten. Reviewed by dh.

"The Adventures of Cow, by Cow" by Linda Korchak, illustrated by Marshall Taylor, Tricycle Press hardback, $12.95. (2005)

It's hard to know for what age to recommend this little book. Since its humor is based on a very confused little plastic cow, readers have to be old enough to understand the confusion. Wait, now I'm confusing you! Back to the beginning...
"The Adventures of Cow by Cow" is about a little plastic cow that gets lost. She asks some big dogs 'where am I,' but they don't speak cow. (The big dogs are actually horses.) She then asks the pig 'how do I get home?" (The pig is actually a goat. It's at this point that kids usually point out, "That's a goat!" I show them cow's narration, which clearly states the goat is a pig.) Poor Cow. Will she ever get home?

Cow's charm is that she honestly doesn't think she's confused. Kids will delight in correcting cow, and adults will giggle at the illustrations. Even better, there's a sequel! "The Adventures of Cow, Too!" (2007). For 1st graders and silly adults. Reviewed by dh.

"Impounded: Dorothea Lange and the Censored Images of Japanese American Internment" by Dorothea Lange (Author), Linda Gordon (Editor), Gary Y. Okihiro (Editor), W. W. Norton hardback, 29.95 (2006)

In 1942, Dorothea Lange was hired by the Relocation Authority to document the evacuation of Japanese Americans into concentration camps. The Berkeley-based documentary photographer is best known for her dignified and artful photographs of migrant workers during the Depression. This book brings to light a new chapter in her body of work.

These photographs must not have met the goals of the Army which ran the operation. Ultimately, the Army decided to not release Lange's photos. In fact, the prints were marked, "Impounded" so they could not be used. Luckily for us, the negatives were left untouched.

Lange followed their rules - no pictures of barbed wire, watchtowers or armed soldiers were allowed; no shows of resistance from the internees would be documented. She was harassed by Army commanders looking for any excuse to dismiss her. Even within those restraints, these never-before-seen photographs poignantly portray the human costs of internment.

The text written by Gordon and Okihiro set the stage. Gordon discusses Lange's methods and her disapproval of the relocation. Okihiro begins with the history of prejudice against Japanese-Americans pre-dating Pearl Harbor. After the attack, the government and media waged a war against a race, not an ideology. He describes how community leaders were the first to be removed from their families without explanations, the assignment of numbers to depersonalize people, and the loss of privacy as families are housed in horse stalls. His chapter explains the context of Lange's photographs. Her pictures of placid faces belie the anger, fear and shame that were surely below the surface.

Photographs, captioned by Lange, tell the story. Pictures of amassing refugees occur in the Bay Area. I was surprised to see pictures of San Leandro, Hayward and Centerville (one of the original five towns of Fremont). Lange captures the primitive conditions of Tanforan and Manzanar. There are no pictures of inside the barracks which for artistic and privacy reasons Lange declined to take.

Go online to compare Lange's photos with those of Manzanar taken by Ansel Adams. The camps by then were more organized and livable, appearing as an idyllic summer camp. Adams totally supported the relocation and his photos were made public as part of the war effort.

Reading "Impounded," I better understand why Japanese-Americans were some of the first to warn against anti-Arab prejudice after 9/11. Hopefully, the lessons of history will compel us not to repeat such mistakes. Reviewed by jp.

Recommended for teens and adults interested in California and local history.

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