Review: We Belong Here

We Belong Here

by Frieda Wishinsky, illustrated by Ruth Ohi

North Winds Press (Imprint of Scholastic Canada Ltd.), 2023

Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Melissa Lasher

We Belong Here deftly reminds readers of two simple yet essential ideas: Speak up. Be kind.

Jewish Eve Bloom hates getting teased for being “born in another country.” When a new kid, Japanese Mark Nakamura, arrives and the school bullies turn on him, Eve defends Mark. The two become close friends, bonding over their outsider status and shared love of fanciful stories. But when Mark’s dad loses his job because of xenophobic co-workers/bosses, Eve worries that Mark will move away, and she’ll be plunged back into loneliness.

Unless…she can find work for Mr. Nakamura. Over green tea and Eve’s mom’s rugelach, the two families commiserate about the urban immigrant experience. The Blooms offer Mr. Nakamura a job spiffing up their tired grocery store—which leads to other local businesses doing the same. The slew of jobs means the Nakamuras can stay. Their new involvement in the community helps (most of) the town grow to welcome the family.

Wishinsky’s somewhat spare text lets the multi-layered story shine through and includes kid-friendly descriptions of complex ideas. Ohi’s bright, hopeful illustrations add difficult if age-appropriate details. For example, near the end, the reader sees one of the bullies reluctantly pushed out of the bustling main street by his still-fearful parent. It’s implied that the child has changed, but his parent has not.

Backmatter includes succinct and unflinching descriptions of the Jewish and Japanese experiences during WWII and in the post-war years. The creators, who are friends, tell their families’ stories and how the duo intertwined them to create We Belong Here. They explain that the “here” in the book is Canada in the 1950s.

Eve’s strong sense of tikkun olam shows readers that a small act of kindness has a big impact on both giver and recipient—and, poignantly, on the broader community. That, combined with the historical layer, makes this book relatable across cultures. The depth of emotion and authenticity of the Jewish post-war experience make it a contender for the Sydney Taylor Book Award.

Are you interested in reviewing books for The Sydney Taylor Shmooze? Click here!

Reviewer Melissa Lasher writes contemporary middle grade and picture books. As a journalist, she contributed to publications such as the San Francisco Chronicle, Runner’s World, and National Geographic Adventure, where she was an editor. Macon, GA-born, north Jersey-bred, and a New Yorker at heart, she lived in San Francisco for ten years before settling in Tennessee with her husband, three kids, and book-eating dog (he thinks fiction is delicious). She’s a reluctant Southerner but will go all Jersey on you if you knock her adopted hometown.


  1. So many thanks for this insightful review! Frieda Wishinsky

  2. Abby Augenblick GatenbyOctober 24, 2023 at 10:32 PM

    Based on this insightful review, I will buy We Belong Here.


Post a Comment