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Inside The Classroom Bookshelf

Paper Wishes

HandleImagePaper Wishes

Written by Lois Sepahban

Published in 2016 by Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers
ISBN 978-0-374-30216-0
Grades 3-8
Book Review
How do we sensitively teach children about the painful truths of American history? Perhaps the best method we have is with moving, memorable stories that reveal the inner lives of people most affected by historical injustice. Lois Sepahban’s debut novel, Paper Wishes, offers readers a lyrical and emotional account of Japanese internment camps during World War II told through the eyes of a ten-year-old girl. Growing up on Bainbridge Island in Washington, Manami had a peaceful life with her family and friends. That is, until the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1942 after which Manami and thousands of other Japanese Americans were forced by the government to relocate and leave their homes for prison camps. As her family makes heart-wrenching choices about what to take and what to leave behind, Manami grabs their family dog, Yujin, and hides him under her coat. Before she can board a train with Yujin, Manami is stopped by a soldier and is forced to leave him behind, subjecting her beloved pet to an unknown fate beyond her control. Guilt-ridden and devastated, the loss of Yujin silences Manami.  She finds refuge in the warm care of her teacher at the camp, Miss Rosalie, who gives her the tools she needs most to find solace and to reclaim her voice—paper and pencils. Manami draws pictures of Yujin and sends him paper wishes that she releases into the desert air in the hopes that he will return to her. With sparse, but evocative language, Louis Sepahban has crafted a work of historical fiction that is character-driven, emotionally charged, and supportive of complex considerations of the impact of war on human lives. Middle grade readers will connect with Manami’s fears and confusion as well as her strength and resolve. Full of curricular possibilities for the integration of social studies and language arts, Paper Wishesis a story that should be read widely if we are to help our students heed the proverbial saying,  “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Teaching Ideas / Invitations for Your Classroom:
Grades 3-8
Understanding Japanese Internment Camps Text Set. Pair Paper Wishes in a duet model with Kirby Lawson’s Dash, another novel about a Japanese American girl who is separated from her dog when she is sent to an internment camp following the attack on Pearl Harbor. Alongside these novels, read Ken Mochizuki’s picture book Baseball Saved Us. Have students take notes on the historical details revealed in each story. From these stories, what do we learn about the causes of the forced relocation, the internment camps, and the use of baseball as a community builder? Discuss with students the ways in which stories told through the eyes of a child can help us better remember historical content using details from Paper WishesBaseball Saved Us, and Children of the Camps. Next, view with students the PBS site on the documentary film, Children of the Camps. In particular, support students to closely read President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 from 1942 which permitted the military to circumvent constitutional safeguards in the name of national defense. View still images of the internment camps and support students to name what they see and what they wonder. How do the images compare with the mental images of the camps they generated when reading the historical fiction novels? Extend this understanding of the context by viewing Ken Burn’s documentary on Manzanar where Manami’s family is held as well as a United States government film explaining and defending the government’s actions. Discuss with students the purpose of each film, considerations of audience, and the differences in cinematic style between a documentary and a primary source film.
Understanding World War II through Literature Text Set. The widespread impact of war on human lives can be explored sensitively with students through a World War II text set. Gather a variety of texts that explore World War II from multiple points of view and from different global locations. In addition to Paper Wishes, The Classroom Bookshelf has many possibilities including The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, Courage Has No Color by Tanya Lee Stone, and Echo: A Novel by Pam Munoz Ryan. Organize students into book clubs to discuss their reactions to the books and the impact of war on the lives of the characters. Support students to present their books to the rest of the class using a variety of methods such as digital stories, dramatic representations, and historical timelines. Following presentations, consider composing a class podcast on reading and learning about World War II through literature. Students can read aloud and record select lines from the books as well as their own interpretations of what the characters’ stories taught them about the impact of war on human lives.
Writing About History: Author’s Note. After reading Paper Wishes, support students to closely read the author’s note to learn more about Lois Sepahban’s process as a researcher and writer. Sepahban offers more historical insight into the events that led up to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. She also shares moments that she altered for the sake of the story such as the lantern festival, which did not happen at the internment camp where Manami was interned. Consider with students the role of accuracy in the writing of historical fiction using the lantern festival as an example of the liberties that historical fiction authors often take. Engage students in discussion and opinion writing about whether they think Sepahban should have included or left out this historically inaccurate but culturally relevant event.
Paper Wishes: Art as Hope. Art in all forms is often a vehicle for visions of hope. Manami faces her feelings of loss and confusion about Yujin by sketching her beloved dog in a variety of scenes. She then sends these paper wishes into the air in the hopes that Yujin will find these messages and return to her. Support students to draw their own hopes and dreams they have for their own lives or the lives of others by making their own paper wishes. Allow students to post or keep to themselves their own paper wishes. Take to the outdoors and use bubbles as a substitute for their paper wishes. Have students send their bubble/paper wishes up into the air in a class hopes and dreams ceremony.
Geography in the Lives of Characters.  Living by the sea on Bainbridge Island was an integral part of Manami’s identity as well as the identity of her grandfather. The book opens with them sitting on a special rock at the beach where the soil ends and the sand begins. The dark, wet sand and salty spray of the sea seem to be connected to who they are and their ideas about where they are from. Then, they are forced to leave the landscape of their home and are taken to the dry desert camp of Manzanar, California. What are the ways in which geography shapes Manami’s and her grandfather’s experience at the internment camp? Support students to engage in their own writing about the ways in which geography and other markers of where they are from impact who they are.
The Power of Words: “I’m Sorry”. Manami is silenced through most of her stay at the internment camp in Manzanar. The red, dry dirt cakes her throat as does her feelings of loss over Yujin. She reclaims her voice through art and writing but also at the moment when she is ready to say I’m sorry to her grandfather. Read and reread this moment of apology and forgiveness with students. Engage in a discussion of the value of the words “I’m sorry” and times when they have uttered those words to someone else with honesty and purpose. Turn to music to engage in a lyric study on the impact of saying “I’m sorry” including Adele’s hit song “Hello”, One Republic’s “Apologize”, John Denver’s “I’m Sorry”, and Chicago’s “Hard to Say I’m Sorry”. Extend the study further by reading This is Just to Say: Poems of Apology and Forgiveness by Joyce Sidman along with the humorous Forgive Me: I Meant to Do It by Gail Carson. Create a letter writing center where students have a variety of supplies including letter writing paper, envelopes, and stamps to write letters that say “I’m sorry” to someone in their own life as an ongoing invitation.
Man’s Best Friend Text Set. Manami’s love of her dog Yujin is central to the development of her character. Gather other books where the love and sometimes loss of a family pet is central to the protagonist’s story including Kirby Lawson’s Dash, Ann Martin’s Rain Reign, Cynthia Lord’s A Handful of Stars, Sharon Creech’s Love that Dog, and Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn-Dixie. Have students write their own interpretations of the power of pets to reveal more about human characters.
Critical Literacy
Complicating Patriotism. In Manami’s school, the warden forces students to study the Declaration of Independence, to recite the pledge, and to perform songs on Independence Day. Ron is offered freedom from the internment camp in exchange for joining the American troops; thereby, fighting for a country that is keeping his family prisoner. Engage students in a discussion of patriotism and whether they agree with the warden’s orders or whether they believe this represents a further injustice. To further complicate notions of patriotism, pair Paper Wishes with Avi’s Nothing But the Truth, which also includes controversy over reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in school. Further this discussion by reading and listening to audiorecordings of This I Believe essays on the topic of patriotism. How does the multiplicity of voices deepen and complicate our understandings of patriotism?
Further Explorations
Online Resources
Author’s Site
Children of Japanese Internment Camps
National Archives on Japanese Relocation During WWII
History Channel Japanese Internment Relocation Videos
Ken Burn’s Documentary on Manzanar
United States Government Film
NPR: Photos Three Very Different Views of Japanese Internment
Ducksters Site on Japanese Internment Camps
This I Believe essays on Patriotism
Avi. (1991). Nothing but the truth. New York, NY: Scholastic.
Bradley, K. B. (2015). The war that saved my life. New York, NY: Dial Books.
Bunting, E. (2009). So far from the sea. Boston, MA: HMH Books for Young Readers.
Carson, G. (2012). Forgive me: I meant to do it. New York, NY: HarperCollins.
Creech, S. (2001). Love that dog. New York, NY: HarperCollins.
DiCamillo, K. (2009). Because of Winn-Dixie. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick.
Lawson, K. (2014). Dash. New York, NY: Scholastic.
Martin, A. (2014). Reign rain. New York, NY: Feiwel and Friends.
Mochizuki, K. (1993). Baseball saved us. New York: Lee and Low Books.
Oppenheim, J. (2006). Dear Miss Breed: True stories of the Japanese American incarceration during World War II and a librarian who made a difference. New York, NY: Scholastic.
Ryan, P. M. (2015). Echo: A novel. New York: Scholastic.
Sandler, M. (2013). Imprisoned: The betrayal of Japanese Americans during World War II. London, United Kingdom: Walker Childrens.
Say, A. (2002). Home of the brave. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children.
Sidman, J. (2014). This is just to say: Poems of apology and foregiveness. Boston, MA: HMH Books for Young Readers.
Stone, T.L. (2013).  Courage has no color. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick.
Uchida, Y. (1996). The bracelet. New York, NY: Puffin Books.

Katie Cunningham About Katie Cunningham

Katie is a Professor of Literacy and English Education at Manhattanville College. There she is also the Director of the Advanced Certificate Program in Social and Emotional Learning and Whole Child Education. Her work focuses on children’s literature, joyful literacy methods, and literacy leadership. Katie is the author of Story: Still the Heart of Literacy Learning and co-author of Literacy Leadership in Changing Schools. Her book Start with Joy: Designing Literacy Learning for Student Happiness will be released September 2019. She is passionate about the power of stories to transform lives.


  1. Wow! You put a lot into your reviews. I will be checking you out weekly.

  2. So glad to see you showcasing this amazingly poignant, and important book!!

  3. Hearing Katie speak at the Sacred Heart literacy conference really resonated with me and my habit of relying on old favorites for book selection in the classroom. Your blog is a wonderful resource to keep us current and reflect the complexion of our student body. This book and the accompanying lesson ideas would be a great text for our fifth graders to choose as they study immigration in the United States. I will make sure to share.

  4. What a wonderful review! Would you consider linking it up with the Diverse Children's Books Link-up? You can find it at Thanks!