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Filling in What is Missing with Elizabeth Partridge and Lauren Tamaki

Elizabeth Partridge and Lauren Tamaki share Seen and Unseen, an important work of nonfiction featuring powerful images of the Japanese American incarceration captured by three photographers--Dorothea Lange, Toyo Miyatake, and Ansel Adams--along with firsthand accounts of this grave moment in history.

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[0:57] Introduction


Matthew: Welcome to the Children’s Book Podcast. I’m Matthew.


I am a teacher, a librarian, and a fan of kids. And today we are talking about history. In fact, this might be a part of American history that you haven’t learned about yet. Believe it or not, I don’t remember learning about it until I was in my 20s. This is a part of American history that I was never taught.


Before we get started, remember that you can shop for any of the books you hear on this podcast while at the same time supporting independent bookstores! Just head to matthewcwinner.com and click on “Bookshop”. You can also support the show and buy me a coffee. And, of course, we love seeing those 5-star reviews come in for the show, like this one “I just found this podcast and I love it!! Matthew does a great job getting his guests to talk and asks great questions. I’ve only listened to a few so far but it’s been extremely interesting and informative!” Nice! I love that!


Our guests today are Elizabeth Partridge and Lauren Tamaki, author and illustrator of Seen and Unseen: What Dorothea Lange, Toyo Miyatake, and Ansel Adams's Photographs Reveal about the Japanese American Incarceration.


Elizabeth Partridge is the acclaimed author of more than a dozen books for young readers, including biographies of Dorothea Lange, Woody Guthrie, and John Lennon.


The goddaughter of Dorothea Lange, Elizabeth grew up surrounded by Dorothea's photographs. She always knew her godmother wanted to bear witness to important and difficult times in American history with her camera. Dorothea's photograph of Torazo Sakawye, carrying his young grandson on his shoulders down a dusty Manzanar street inspired Elizabeth to begin writing this book, which seeks to illuminate the stories behind the photos.


Lauren Tamaki is a Canadian illustrator living in New York.


Having grown up in Calgary as a fourth-generation Japanese Canadian, Lauren was inspired by this project to learn more about her grandparents, who both had experiences with incarceration camps in British Columbia. Through her research, she discovered that her grandfather used his law degree to fight for the rights of incarcerated Japanese Canadians after they were released. Connecting with her family's history was a source of pride for Lauren as she brought the experiences of incarcerated people to life in the pages of this book.



[3:29] Book Summary




This important work of nonfiction features powerful images of the Japanese American incarceration captured by three photographers--Dorothea Lange, Toyo Miyatake, and Ansel Adams--along with firsthand accounts of this grave moment in history.


Three months after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the incarceration of all Japanese and Japanese Americans living on the West Coast of the United States. Families, teachers, farm workers--all were ordered to leave behind their homes, their businesses, and everything they owned. Japanese and Japanese Americans were forced to live under hostile conditions in incarceration camps, their futures uncertain.


Three photographers set out to document life at Manzanar, an incarceration camp in the California desert:


Dorothea Lange was a photographer from San Francisco best known for her haunting Depression-era images. Dorothea was hired by the US government to record the conditions of the camps. Deeply critical of the policy, she wanted her photos to shed light on the harsh reality of incarceration.


Toyo Miyatake was a Japanese-born, Los Angeles-based photographer who lent his artistic eye to portraying dancers, athletes, and events in the Japanese community. Imprisoned at Manzanar, he devised a way to smuggle in photographic equipment, determined to show what was really going on inside the barbed-wire confines of the camp.


Ansel Adams was an acclaimed landscape photographer and environmentalist. Hired by the director of Manzanar, Ansel hoped his carefully curated pictures would demonstrate to the rest of the United States the resilience of those in the camps.


In Seen and Unseen, Elizabeth Partridge and Lauren Tamaki weave together these photographers' images, firsthand accounts, and stunning original art to examine the history, heartbreak, and injustice of the Japanese American incarceration.



[5:51] Meet Our Guests: Elizabeth Partridge and Lauren Tamaki



I love to write nonfiction for both kids and adults. And I especially love a topic that's not too well known so I can shed some light on it.


Lauren: Hi, my name is Lauren Tamaki.


I'm an illustrator and designer, a Canadian living in New York. I do mostly editorial illustration up until a few years ago. And I am the illustrator of Seen and Unseen: What Dorothea Lange, Toyo Miyatake, and Ansel Adams's Photographs Reveal about the Japanese American Incarceration. Scene and Unseen what Dorothy Lang Toyo. Mia Taki and Ansel Adams photographs reveal about the Japanese American in.



[6:41] First Knowledge of the Japanese American Incarceration


Matthew: Listeners, we’re going to take our time on this one today, because I know that many of you might be hearing about this for the first time. That’s how history works. We learn things for the first time and, with any luck, we remember them and we think about how that history is connected to what our world looks like today.


I was not taught about the Japanese American incarceration in school, not that I can remember. And it was not something my parents taught me about either, though I honestly cannot remember ever asking them about it.

Elizabeth: I have no memory of when I first heard about the Japanese-American incarceration because I was born like six years after World War II ended, and so it was still a little bit in the air for those who cared to know about it. And of course, my godmother had photographed the incarceration, so there were photographs up on the wall of her living room that she had taken doing the job of photographing.


But the emotional moment, it hit me was not until fifth grade. There was a kid in my class named Paul Yanamora who said in front of the whole class that his family had not been allowed to buy a house in our neighborhood after the war because they were Japanese American. And I was absolutely shocked. That's when it totally hit me that something really bad had happened in our country that I did not understand.


Lauren: So, I am Canadian. I'm Japanese Canadian. My dad is Japanese. My grandfather was born in Canada, actually, so many, you know, a few generations Canadian.


And the same thing happened in Canada that happened in the US with the incarceration during the war. And I had known about it very peripherally. It wasn't anything that was talked about. I didn't know my grandparents' involvement until working on this book, how their families were involved. And it, it was just something that… “Oh, we left. We got over it. We left it behind. Look how successful we are. We don't have to talk about it.”

Obviously wasn't a big topic in school. I don't even remember if we talked about it, I took social studies, like AP. I did all these kind of like advanced based placement classes and I never, I don't ever remember having any real engagement with it.


And my biggest education has been working on this book and visiting Manzanar. So it, it is, uh, this has been my biggest discovery about the incarceration, both in mostly in, in the US.


The Canadian one had its own kind of ins and outs, but, um, yeah, it, it only until very recently did I really know the, the whole story.



[9:48] Filling in What’s Missing


Matthew: Making books is sometimes a little bit like magic. The author has an idea, a story they want to share. But finding just the right way to share that story can lead you down really unexpected paths.


Listeners, has that ever happened to you? Have you ever had a great idea for a game or a story or a thing to do with your friends, but, when you got to making it, the process and the end result were different than the way you first pictured it? And, I mean, different like “better” different.


The way this book as a whole impacted me when reading it was something I struggled to put words to.


Here. Listen for yourself!


Matthew: This is one of those books that I feel like, “Did Lauren design something that if I took out all the pages and spread them all out, it'd be like when I, when I was 10 and I was clicking X-Men cards, and if you put 'em all together in one of those, uh, card books, playing card books, they actually all connected, the art all connected in one giant sheet?”

It felt like that, here, it felt like you, your art, by design, was trying to help us see a whole picture. Not glimpses of, but rather, all of this connects, let's carry color over. Let's carry this over. It just feels woven together. And it's, it's really exceptionally done.

And the restraint you pointed out that Elizabeth used in that text felt absolutely intentional as well. “I'm not gonna tell you how to feel about this. I'm gonna present the evidence in front of you and you're gonna decide, because I respect you as a reader.” That, Elizabeth, is where I'm saying that. I see you talking up to your readers, you, you respecting them and holding that space , because you talk about some, some really hard stuff in this book and some really hard truths and it's, it's all there for us to. For, for us to investigate and, and, and linger on as long as we'd like.


Elizabeth: One of the amazing things about this book was that I came to the editor with an idea, like, “I wanna write a text and I have these photos, but they don't tell the whole picture, the whole story, so we need an illustrator who can fill in what's missing.”

So that was my idea: the Illustrator will fill this in. And then we got the amazement of what Lauren was able to bring to the project, which is Lauren started saying like, “Yeah, okay, here's all this stuff that's missing from your images and your words.”


And as you said, Matthew, it started to all weave together, but it did something else, which is there is an emotionality in that in all of Lauren's sketches that just absolutely drives the narrative through this book. You know, it's like the, the two of us got to work together in a collaboration that's almost never allowed in doing a book together, which is usually the writer writes their bit and then they pull out and then the illustrator gets to work.


But there was too many overlaps. I mean, I had the photos and then Lauren had these ideas and then she was like, “Well, if you could do this photo, I could do this illustration.” I'm like, “Huh! That's a fantastic idea. Let's swap photos.”


So we just really shifted things around and it ended up letting both of us go so much deeper than we would've individually.


Lauren: Yeah, completely. And Ariel Richardson, our editor, it was you, you know, it was your and her baby from the start, this book, right? Like, you had come to her and our fabulous editor at Chronicle. And, and she, she always told me she's like, And I kind of, in our other conversations about books, she's like, “I never wanna talk down to readers.”

And I, and I love the way that you're saying, “Oh, how, how clear it is.” And, and yes, maybe some of these concepts will take an extra second for anybody to really wrap their head around, let alone kids.


But it's definitely the books that I enjoyed when I was young. I loved, you know, things that I couldn't, maybe I could just touch the edges of that concept. And then I could meet, and then I could grow with it and evolve with it. And then finally, and then when I actually got it one day, I was like, “Wow.” You know? I loved those kinds of books.

And so, I said it before, but this experience, having this collaboration with Elizabeth, just completely ruined me for probably my future collaborations because it, it apparently was so unusual how much we were able to share and how permeable this, you know, our, our kind of membranes were, and, and the kind of back and forth. It was, it was exceptional. And, and being able to have such with her, this co-ownership, um, it made me push myself further and further.


And, and, you know, I designed this book essentially with the help of Lydia Ortiz and because when we are going through it, when we're, “Okay, here's the photo, here's the text, here's the illustrations.” Of course, then it was just being designed as I was illustrating it because there was no other way to go about it.


And so your comment about how, if you could separate it and look at it as a whole, like I did, that's all I did. I would like zoom out, okay, how did all this, you know, in my InDesign file, zoom out. Okay. How does that look? And I think that was like my graphic design training. I mean, I used all of my little tools in my tool belts.I think I use every single one and even fashioned new tools to use for this, for this experience. And, and so it was just so special. It was an incredible experience.



[15:33] BREAK


[15:55] Dorthea’s Goddaughter


Matthew: Dorthea Lange, famed photographer of the Great Depression, was Elizbeth Partridge’s godmother. And growing up around Dorthea had a profound impact on Elizabeth.


Elizabeth: My dad decided to be a photographer when he was like 16 or 17 years old. He was growing up in a photography family and then he was actually able to apprentice first with Ansel Adams and then with Dorothea Lange. And because these were all family friends for him.


And so the one he really connected with was Dorothea. And she lived in North Berkeley and we lived on the south side of Berkeley. And so, when we children were growing up, we were considered her godchildren cuz we did all our Christmases with them and 4th of July. And, you know, that was family as I knew it.


And so, a lot of how Dorothea and her husband Paul, they had a tremendous social consciousness. I mean, that was just what they were doing. Dorothia, Lang's responsible for taking the photograph of the migrant mother during the Great Depression. So that's a very well known photograph of a mother holding a baby and then with some other children around her, unable to care for her children.


So I grew up with that whole milieu, so when Ariel asked me if I wanted to do a book on Dorothea, I was like, “Nah, I've already done a book on her. Well, but there's one set of photographs that I would love to explore more.” And that was her incarceration photos. So that's where it started, and then it got started.


And I also knew that Dorothy didn't approve of Ansel's photos of the incarceration. So yeah, so I was like, “Oh, that's really interesting.”


And then, luckily, as I was doing the research, quickly I discovered Toyo Miyatake's photos, and then I was like, oh my gosh, what an amazing array of photos available to us to put together in a book.



[18:06] Research, Not Any Other Way


Matthew: All of those amazing photos kicked off an exhaustive and inspiring research process for Lauren.


Lauren: I can't put pen to paper, pencil to paper, anything, without researching it so thoroughly until I'm satisfied that I have a grasp of the subject. Both.

I mean, most of the time with editorial it's a visual grasp, but for this particular book. It was also that historical grasp when it came to Dorothea, when it came to Toyo, when it came to people's individual experiences, which I read about.

I tried to get my hands on every single piece of media that I could find. I took out all the books from the Brook Brooklyn Public Library about the subject. I would watch documentaries, even about Toyo Miyatake before, and his pictorial photography.

It was so important for me to have that shorthand because then I could have that flow when I illustrated. I could… I didn't have to stop and think, “Oh, well, what, what was their hair like?” Or I didn't have to stop and think, “Oh, what, what would their suitcases look like?” because I had this just massive inventory of images to reference.

And then, also, the great gifts that research always gives you is more ideas and more ideas. And even these little, these little nuggets that I would find, like, uh, at Tanforan when they were waiting to be transferred to Manzanar. There was just, just this little tiny sentence in this book I was reading called Impounded about Dorothea Lange, and they were talking about how people had fly catching contests just because they were bored. They wanted something to do. And so I was like, “Wouldn't that just be just a little image to communicate to a kid, to communicate to anybody, to put them there?” Because you can talk in these grand kind of monolithic ways about an experience and about a people, but when you personalize it. That's when you can touch people. You can grab them and be like, “Oh, okay, well what do I do when I'm bored? What do I do when I pass to, to pass the time?”


And, and, yeah, so, so research, I mean, I, I, I taught for a very brief period and the kids were so sick of me talking about research and so sick of me demanding research, but I really don't, I don't know any other way of working. Honestly.



[20:27] The Miyatakes at Home


Matthew: Seen and Unseen is over 100 pages long, and reading it absolutely flew by to me, with words and photos and illustrations all blending together. But here are some moments that stick out to Lauren and to Elizabeth when they share the book with readers.


Lauren: What I think people find kind of interesting is the page where we see the environment that the Miyatakes lived in. So that's page 52. And, uh, their, their little space they carved out for themselves. So that image, I didn't make any of that up. That was from an image actually by Ansel Adams, where the Miyatakes were sitting together in their living room, in their, probably their only room, you know, in the barrack.

And I took them out so I could focus on the actual, the way they decorated their space, the way they tried to make it homey, the way they, they had, “Oh, look at all these…” And I noticed when I took them out of the photo, when I, when I wanted to render that image, “Oh, they have, so they have a map on the wall. Maybe these, you know, drawings. They have books of encyclopedias, they have fashion magazines.” And that was just another way for me to, again, try and just situate the reader in an environment and to humanize and personalize people and this family in particular.


Elizabeth: I wanna just add something about that spread of Lauren that struck me right in the heart. Underneath that wonderful picture of how the Miyatakes lived is a row of shoes.


And I'm telling you, this will practically make me cry because Lauren thought to draw everybody's shoes. And I love the reference to, in a Japanese American household, a Japanese Canadian take or Japanese, take off your shoes before you go in the door. You don't wanna bring all that dirt from outside, inside.


And the poignancy of the empty shoes for me was like, “But they no longer have a home to take their shoes off to go into. Their real home is no longer there.”


And I just would like to say that never in a million years, I, as a white writer, would've thought of that as an illustration. So I, I just love that that was so much a part of Lauren that ding, ding, ding, ding. There was the whole family's shoes. So I love that.


The page, that spread that really talked to me was this one, page 48, where, Dorothea's trying to do her photography because I was trying to bring that into the book as well.


"Whatever she photographed, Dorothea put layers of meaning in the image. A simple-looking photograph of a grandfather and a grandson seems to ask a question: why had the United States government locked up a very old man and a toddler? How were they a threat to our national security?


And at the bottom of the page, there's a beautiful image of Dorothea with her camera that underneath that:


All Dorothea could do was hope her photographs carried a strong message. ‘This is what we did’, she said. ‘How did it happen? How could we?’



[24:06] Lauren Discovers Her Identity Again


Matthew: Working on this book changed Lauren. It’s something she reflected on throughout our conversation.

She shared this one more thought that I wanted to make sure reached you before we close our time together.


Lauren: Working on this book was the beginning of me starting to discover my identity again, yet again, as a Japanese Canadian, I think, as part of the diaspora, you always have to continually rediscover or discover different parts of yourself because we live in this very, you know, a country where people are coming in, you know, immigrants.

And it has really helped me in a way I never thought it could, working on this book, to even open those channels of conversation with my own family. And having my dad tell me, “I read, I read this book, I read the whole thing. And, and you know, I'm gonna, when I see him next in person, I'm gonna sit him down and tell you, “Well, what did you think?” And, “tell me everything you felt.”


And, and to even have my, my aunt involved, she… The calligraphy on one of the pages that says “Tamaki”, um, the page where they talk about, you know, the man is turning his, his back on, not turning his back, but you know, doing up a tie and he has a, has a, the closet full of kimono.


And it's just that kind of bringing, there was so much of myself in this, in this book and just… so, so I guess, you know, I'm 39 now, gonna be 40 this year, and it's never too late to discover parts of yourself, like these big parts of yourself.



[25:50] A Message from Elizabeth Partridge and Lauren Tamaki


Matthew: Listeners, thank you for spending this time with us today. I hope you walk away learning something new about American history and about the Japanese American incarceration. And I hope that you feel encouraged to ask questions about history. There are things you don’t yet know or understand, and those questions will bring you closer to making meaningful connections between then and now, including the specific ways your family and extended family may have been affected.


As I prepare to head back to my library full of children, I hope that you will remember these special messages from Elizabeth Partridge and Lauren Tamaki.


Elizabeth: When the three photographers were doing these photographs, it was very expensive to make a photograph and print it up as a photograph that other people could see.


And now, today, everybody has a cell phone and there's a camera in the cell phone. So we have a very powerful tool for social justice in our back pocket. And I just wanna encourage people when you see something that just doesn't feel right, you can bear witness to that by taking a photograph.


If you see a bunch of garbage in the gutter and you think that's not right, you can take a photograph and send that to your mayor and say, “Mayor, look how dirty this street is.”

I mean, there are all kinds of ways you can use a camera for more than just your friends and family. So I just wanna have people open your mind to the idea that you've got this great tool that's absolutely available to you at every moment.


Lauren: Something I wish somebody had told me and that I actually believed when I was young was that you can't let fear make the decisions for you. And it's something that I struggle with even up to this day, but having released myself from a lot of that, I can see it for what it was, which was it just holding myself back. Letting other people and their opinions control me and I just, because I'm sure I, I got the message of some, I, you know, you had all these inspirational messages when we were kids, you know, “You be you” and “Everybody…”, but it, it really, um, I wish I, I gotten it to sink in earlier.

But like, like I said earlier, it is, it's never too late to learn these lessons.



[28:36] Closing


Matthew: The Children’s Book Podcast is written, edited, and produced by me, Matthew Winner.


Follow the show wherever podcasts are found, and leave us a rating or review when you do. That helps us out a whole lot because it helps the show get discovered by and recommended to new listeners.


Elizabeth? Lauren? Where can listeners find you?


Elizabeth: I am on Instagram as Elizabeth.Partridge. And I have a website: elizabethpartridge.com.


So just a question of where the dot is. That's where I am.


Lauren: I'm very streamlined like Elizabeth, I am LaurenTamaki on Instagram and laurentamaki.com. That's it.


Matthew: Visit matthewcwinner.com for a full transcript of this episode plus some questions that you can use as you think about this episode.


You can also reach out and let me know what information you’ve learned about the Japanese American incarceration, or what questions you still have.


Write to me or send me a message at matthewmakespods@gmail.com. That’s M-A-T-T-H-E-W M-A-K-E-S P-O-D-S at gmail dot com.


Want a copy of Seen and Unseen? Check your school or public library, your classroom, or, if you want to support independent bookstores, you can purchase a copy at Bookshop.org.


I’ll have a link in the show notes.


Our podcast logo was created by Duke Stebbins (https://stebs.design/).


Our music is by Podington Bear.


Podcast hosting by Libsyn.


You can support the show and buy me a coffee at www.matthewcwinner.com.


We are a proud member of Kids Listen, the best place to discover the best in kids podcasts. Learn more at kidslisten.org.


Fellow teachers and librarians, want a way to explore building a stronger culture of reading in our communities? In The Reading Culture podcast, Beanstack co-founder Jordan Bookey hosts conversations that dive into beloved authors' personal journeys and insights into motivating young people to read. And I am a big fan! Their recent guests include: Erin Entrada Kelly, James Ponti, Ellen Oh, Grace Lin, Adam Gidwitz, and Kate DiCamillo! Check out the Reading Culture Podcast with Jordan Bookey, from Beanstack. Available wherever podcasts are found.


Be well. And read on.




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