Kiyo Sato

From a WWII Japanese Internment Camp to a Life of Service

  • Interest Level: Grade 6 - Grade 12
  • Reading Level: Grade 8

“Our camp, they tell us, is now to be called a ‘relocation center’ and not a ‘concentration camp.’ We are internees, not prisoners. Here’s the truth: I am now a non-alien, stripped of my constitutional rights. I am a prisoner in a concentration camp in my own country. I sleep on a canvas cot under which is a suitcase with my life’s belongings: a change of clothes, underwear, a notebook and pencil. Why?”—Kiyo Sato

In 1941 Kiyo Sato and her eight younger siblings lived with their parents on a small farm near Sacramento, California, where they grew strawberries, nuts, and other crops. Kiyo had started college the year before when she was eighteen, and her eldest brother, Seiji, would soon join the US Army. The younger children attended school and worked on the farm after class and on Saturday. On Sunday, they went to church. The Satos were an ordinary American family. Until they weren’t.

On December 7, 1941, Japan bombed the US naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The next day, US president Franklin Roosevelt declared war on Japan and the United States officially entered World War II. Soon after, in February and March 1942, Roosevelt signed two executive orders which paved the way for the military to round up all Japanese Americans living on the West Coast and incarcerate them in isolated internment camps for the duration of the war. Kiyo and her family were among the nearly 120,000 internees.

In this moving account, Sato and Goldsmith tell the story of the internment years, describing why the internment happened and how it impacted Kiyo and her family. They also discuss the ways in which Kiyo has used her experience to educate other Americans about their history, to promote inclusion, and to fight against similar injustices. Hers is a powerful, relevant, and inspiring story to tell on the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II.

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Interest Level Grade 6 - Grade 12
Reading Level Grade 8
Genre Social Studies, Young Adult
Category 5 Kinds of Nonfiction, 5KN: Narrative Nonfiction, Diverse Books: Race & Ethnicity, Diverse Books: Social Justice, Diversity, SEL: A Self-Awareness, SEL: B Self-Management, SEL: C Social Awareness, SEL: D Relationship Skills, SEL: E Responsible Decision-Making, Social Emotional Learning
Copyright 2021
Publisher Lerner Publishing Group
Imprint Twenty-First Century Books ™
Language English
Number of Pages 136
Publication Date 2020-09-01
Text Type Narrative Nonfiction
BISACS YAN006030, YAN038120, YAN025130
Dewey 940.53/1779172092 [B]
Dimensions 6 x 9
Lexile 1010
Features Author/Illustrator note, Awards, Bibliography/further reading, Glossary, Index, Primary source quotations/images, Reviewed, Source notes, and Timeline

Author: Connie Goldsmith

Connie Goldsmith is a registered nurse with a bachelor of science degree in nursing and a master of public administration degree in health care. She has written numerous books for YA readers and nearly two hundred magazine articles. Her recent books include Kiyo Sato: From a WWII Japanese Internment Camp to a Life of Service (2020), a Junior Library Guild selection; Running on Empty: Sleeplessness in American Teens (2021); Understanding Coronaviruses: SARS, MERS, and the COVID-19 Pandemic (2021); and Bombs Over Bikini: The World's First Nuclear Disaster (2014), a Junior Library Guild selection, a Children's Book Committee at Bank Street College Best Children's Book of the Year, an Association of Children's Librarians of Northern California Distinguished Book, and an SCBWI Crystal Kite Winner. She lives in Sacramento, California. Visit her website at


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  • Eureka! Children's Book Award, Winner, 2022
  • Children's Book Committee at Bank Street College Best Children's Book of the Year, Winner, 2021


Children's Literature Comprehensive Database (CLCD)

“Kiyo Sato’s story opens on her last night of freedom in February 1942. Ever since the Japanese Air Force bombed Pearl Harbor on December 8, 1941, Kiyo has felt shunned by her fellow college students. Now, against the urging of his wife Eleanor, President Roosevelt has ordered that all people with one-sixteenth or more of Japanese heritage must leave the West Coast, specifically the states of California, Oregon, and Washington. They must abandon their home, work, and daily life; they are only allowed to take one suitcase of belongings each.

As Kiyo helps her seven younger brothers and sisters pack, her mother anxiously prepares food for the journey to nowhere and cleans the house for their return. Little do they know that they will not return for years, that their father will have to sell some of his land at low prices, and that his prized tractor will disappear during the war years. Nor do they expect that their house will be occupied by a single mother and her children when they return home in 1945, after three years of incarceration.

Author Connie Goldsmith, a writing colleague of Kiyo Sato’s, traces the arc of her life as a young student and Nisei (American son or daughter born to Japanese immigrant) at the beginning of WWII through her life in internment camps in California and Arizona to her role as a prominent speaker on the history of the American internment of United States citizens of Japanese heritage and the loss of their property and rights during and after the war. Throughout the book, Goldsmith emphasizes the strong values shared by Kiyo and her siblings, six of whom served in the U.S. military. Kiyo served as a nurse in the Korean War and then found work as a school nurse. With their parents, the children cleaned up their neglected farm and house and returned to the farming business their family had started. However, even as a student in college, Kiyo discovered that telling her story was a way to share aspects of American history unknown to many Americans. Restoring that hidden history became her avocation. This book continues her work, by bringing her story to a wider audience of young teens. Recommended for school and public libraries, as well as classes in American history and leadership.”—Children’s Literature Comprehensive Database (CLCD)

Kirkus Reviews

“A moving, insightful portrait.”—Kirkus Reviews


“This informative biography sheds light on a dark chapter in American history.”—Booklist