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“Those Who Helped Us” Signing event on Feb. 18

Come and get it! The book that many of us have been eagerly waiting for is finally here and it was well worth the wait. Those Who Helped Us is simply a gem of a World War II incarceration story.

The challenging delays the book faced because of pandemic and supply-chain issues seem appropriate for its subject matter. Nearly five years after work began on the book, it’s time to applaud and salute renowned local author and historian Ken Mochizuki and prolific local illustrator, cartoonist, and author Kiku Hughes. As Ken put it: “This was one tough slog.” He also said that discussion and research for such a book goes back decades. So, there is a lot to celebrate.

The book is dedicated to the memory of NVC legend Louise Kashino and community historian and activist Yosh Nakagawa. It was co-published by Seattle’s Wing Luke Museum and Chin Music Press. The lavishly illustrated graphic novel is a bittersweet story based mostly on the lives of Japanese American youth and their parents in the Seattle area who were yanked out of their homes, farms, schools, and businesses and imprisoned at the remote and dusty Minidoka concentration camp in Idaho.

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What elevates this book is that it also weaves in stories of humble “Helpers” who are white, African American, Filipino American, members of the Puyallup Tribe of Indians, the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe and other non-Japanese Americans who got little if any public recognition for their good deeds.

Most of the Japanese American characters and names in the book are fictitious, while the names and actions of most of the “Helpers” are real, according to the “Author’s Note” at the beginning of the book, which identifies the real and fictitious individuals. While it’s considered a novel, it’s very real, too, based on exhaustive research of the lives of those in the camp and those helping them.

Book signing: “Those Who Helped Us” is the third of three books in a series about the Japanese American World War II experience that is scheduled to be celebrated at an in-person signing event Saturday, Feb. 18 at Wing Luke Museum, 719 S. King St., Seattle. Here’s the lineup (subject to change): author Ken Mochizuki with Those Who Helped Us / author Lawrence Matsuda with Fighting for America: Nisei Soldiers / author Frank Abe and illustrator Ross Ishikawa with We Hereby Refuse: Japanese American Resistance to Wartime Incarceration. For more details on signing times and to register, go to: WINGLUKE.ORG/EVENTSCALENDAR/2022-BOOK-EVENT-JA-WWII-GRAPHIC-NOVELS

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Full disclosure: I’m the son of one of those “Helpers” featured in the book. That’s OK. After a long career as a newspaper editor, reporter, and occasional book reviewer, I’m confident that I can be as objective as anyone when I say that this is a very good book. Plus, there is an excellent 18-minute video produced by the Seattle Channel. It opens ominously with this line from one of the young girls at Minidoka. “By late October, it started getting cold. This wasn’t Seattle cold. This was desert cold.”   HTTPS://ARCHIVE.ORG/DETAILS/SC21WA-COMMUNITY_STORIES_-_THOSE_WHO_HELPED_US

Book sales: The early reports look good, according to Cassie Chinn, Deputy Executive Director of Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience, where sales are brisk of the prominently displayed book in the museum’s Marketplace shop. “We’ve heard from Chin Music Press that orders from other retailers are coming in strong,” she said, adding: “Ken and Kiku are so talented, and the stories are so heartwarming, offering timely, inspirational lessons for us all.” 

In the spirit of helping, I’ve boosted sales by buying books from the Wing Luke Marketplace, where members like me get a 10 percent discount and can get a free 18-page booklet of excerpts. I also bought a bunch of books at Third Place Books in my Southeast Seattle neighborhood. Store manager Kitri Wood told me that the book was selling well at all three Third Place Books in the Seattle Area. To buy the book from Wing Luke Museum’s online shop, go to: HTTPS://WWW.WINGLUKE.ORG/SHOP/P/THOSE-WHO-HELPED-US

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Over the past year, I kept checking in with my neighborhood Third Place Books where I had placed a big preorder and they kept me updated, every month or so, until mid-December when I finally got the call that the books were in. Just in time for the holidays and what a great gift to the community and country!

The book weighs in at 192 pages and with about 1,000 fantastic illustrations, can be a quick read, if you want it. Took me an hour and 20 minutes, but I’ll be going over it again and again. It’s so readable, educational, and motivational. Even fun at times — if a story about injustice and incarceration can be fun. But the unbeatable human spirit shines through. And if you like basketball, you’ll love this book. Spoiler alert: The end may make you want to jump up and dunk on someone. This book is a winner!

[NOTE: Bill Kossen is an NVC Foundation lifetime member and the son of Carl Kossen, a lifetime NVC member and World War II veteran whose brick is on the NVC Foundation Japanese American Memorial Wall. For a story about Carl Kossen’s connection to the NVC, go to: NVCFOUNDATION.ORG/NEWSLETTER/2015/9/THANKS-FOR-MAKING-US-NO-1/ ]

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— Front cover scan (Courtesy of Wing Luke Museum, Chin Music Press)
— Headshot of Ken Mochizuki (Courtesy of Ken Mochizuki)
— Headshot of Kiku Hughes (Courtesy of Kiku Hughes)
— Photo of book on “New Arrival” shelf at Wing Luke Museum Marketplace (Bill Kossen photo, permission granted by Cassie Chinn of Wing Luke Museum)
— Back cover scan (Courtesy of Wing Luke Museum, Chin Music Press)