"They Called Us Enemy," this year's HBReads book, details author George Takei's experiences during the internment of Japanese Americans in WWI. (Photo by Cate Meister)
Fountain Valley High School

HBReads celebrates ‘They Called Us Enemy’ amidst COVID-19 pandemic

HBReads, a nonprofit reading program designed to engage readers in and around Huntington Beach, has managed to continue in spite of the challenges that the pandemic poses. This year’s HBReads features the graphic novel “They Called Us Enemy” and will operate unlike any previous years.

Huntington Beach Union High School District recently adopted HBReads as a way to unite high schoolers through reading. HBReads’s 2021 program aims to engage students more so than ever, with new events and activities extending the celebration.

In previous years, district librarian Elizabeth Taireh has worked with HBReads to choose a book for the community to read that centers around modern and diverse themes. Traditionally, participants will read the selected book and eventually have the opportunity to attend a speaking event with the book’s author. But Taireh said this year has been much different.

“What proposed to HBReads is that the teachers pick the book this time around,” Taireh said.

Aside from its unique selection process, this year’s book is ground-breaking in its own right.

“They Called Us Enemy” is a critically acclaimed graphic memoir written by George Takei with Justin Eisinger and Steven Scott and illustrated by Harmony Becker. In the book, Takei, now an actor known for his role in “Star Trek,” details his experiences as an interned Japanese American during World War II in Southern California.

“They Called Us Enemy” will be HBReads’s first graphic novel and is available with the district’s new e-book system, MackinVIA. Students can also access the book through Orange County Public Libraries’ and Huntington Beach Public Library’s online library systems.

Taireh isn’t yet certain whether or not students will have the opportunity to hear Takei speak this year since Takei is a prominent actor, but she hopes to schedule something for May. Nevertheless, she anticipates three months’ worth of literature-related activities for students to engage in, unlike previous years where the event consisted mostly of author visits.

This year’s HBReads kicks off with Read Across America Day on March 2. Students will be encouraged to submit videos and photos of themselves reading as a part of a district-wide contest and to read “They Called Us Enemy” by May. Taireh is also planning a speaker series for mid-March surrounding themes of compassion and empathy, which appear prominently in Takei’s novel.

Because March is National Reading Month, Taireh hoped to close with an open mic night.

“The idea is that we read something that’s from a book like an up to a five-minute piece and it can be a performance, a dramatic reading,” Taireh said, although she later noted that readings don’t necessarily have to be performances.

All of 2021’s HBReads events will be virtual; however, a hybrid option might be available to a select group of students, teachers and other community members.

According to Taireh, April’s focus will be on poetry and the way we use words, involving a speaker series on the power of language and a similarly styled open mic night where community members can read original or previously published verse.

HBReads will come to a close in May with a third speaker series on the Asian American experiences, a small film festival or collection of stories featuring the narratives of those who experienced the Japanese Internment, and finally, a culminating discussion or speaker event about “They Called Us Enemy.”

With this year’s schedule, students will have even more opportunities to actively communicate with their peers, learn about parts of history that still impact our community today and explore or develop a love for reading that they might not have during a regular English class.

“We are actually creating change and giving students the opportunity to do the activism and to make that positive impact that they want to,” Taireh said.