New Book on Civil Rights Icon Fred Korematsu Challenges Youth to Speak Up for Justice

"Fred Korematsu Speaks Up,” written by Laura Atkins and Stan Yogi and illustrated by Yutaka Houlette, the first in a new series of middle grade books about civil rights history and heroes from Heyday Books. Courtesy of Heyday Books


by Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

A new book about civil rights icon Fred Korematsu's fight against Japanese-American incarceration wants to teach young readers to "stand up for what is right."

"Fred Korematsu Speaks Up," written by Laura Atkins and Stan Yogi and illustrated by Yutaka Houlette, is scheduled to be released on Jan. 30. It shows how a young Korematsu was just like other Americans who liked listening to music on the radio and playing tennis. The book also covers how he first evaded and then fought the incarceration of Japanese Americans all the way to the Supreme Court.

"Fred Korematsu is one of my heroes," co-author Stan Yogi told NBC News. "During World War II, he stood virtually alone against a powerful government that was violating the rights of Japanese Americans by forcing them into camps. His fight for justice was difficult. But he ultimately prevailed. He dedicated the final decades of his life to ensuring that others would not suffer the same unfair discrimination Japanese Americans endured during World War II."

"[Korematsu's] story is all the more important now with threats to Muslims, immigrants, refugees, and LGBT people," Yogi added. "Kids need to know that we can organize and fight against injustice, just like Fred."

The release of the book is timed to the same day as Korematsu's birthday and the Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution. It is the first in a new series of middle-grade books about civil rights history and heroes from Heyday Books.

Written in poetic free verse, the book blends nonfiction with historical fiction and includes additional historical information, resources for activism, and a note from Korematsu's daughter, Karen Korematsu.

"'Fred Korematsu Speaks Up' is a book that brings the story of my father's fight against injustice in a compelling way that is appropriate for all ages," Karen Korematsu told NBC News." I hope this book will inspire future generations to fight for civil liberties for all communities like my father had done. Children are our future, and it's important to teach them to 'stand up for what is right.'"

The Fred T. Korematsu Institute is planning on creating a lesson plan based on the book and expects to include it in its curriculum kits, which are available free of charge to elementary, middle, and high school teachers.

"We also ask readers questions in hopes that they will reflect on what happened historically alongside what is happening today," coauthor Laura Atkins told NBC News. "We want young people to think critically about their world, digging deeper to make their own judgements."