Children’s Book Reviews

Children's Book Reviews: Heart of a Champion

Publish September 15, 2016

In Ellen Schwartz’s latest book, Heart of a Champion, the complicated, racially-charged questions of 1940s Canada are seen through the eyes of nine year-old Kenji “Kenny” Sakamoto. Inspired by his older brother Mickey’s success in Vancouver’s Asahi baseball club, Kenny dreams of playing baseball too, despite having a heart murmur. His goal of getting on the Clovers, a junior baseball team, is forgotten though when Japan bombs Pearl Harbor and declares war on the west. Suddenly Kenny and his family are considered aliens in the country they love, facing increasing prejudice and restrictions against Canadians with Japanese heritage. Forced into an internment camp, Kenny’s life turns upside down, challenging him to use his smarts and develop his physical strength to survive. Through the use of the Bernsteins, a Jewish family living next door to the Sakamotos, Schwartz makes clear and unflinching connections between what happened to the Jews in Germany and Canada’s growing animosity toward Japanese-Canadians during the Second World War. In the face of this growing intolerance, Kenny’s determination, ingenuity, and spirit – his sheer stubbornness in proving having a heart murmur shouldn’t stop him from taking care of his family no matter the circumstances – make for a lovable character. Kenny’s youthful perspective shelters him from the magnitude of these events and allows him to focus on what he can control, reminding readers hope through sport can be a powerful motivator. A thorough portrait of a troubling time in Canada’s history, Heart of Champions is sure to capture the hearts of others as well.

Heart of a Champion

Ellen Schwartz
Tundra Books, Penguin Random House of Canada
ISBN 13: 978-1-770-498-808