El Dorado students read ‘Okei-san: A Girl’s Journey”

Barsotti Books and the Barsotti family are thrilled to partner with five local organizations for the second annual El Dorado Reads program.

The focus book will again be the updated version of Joan Barsotti’s book, “Okei-san: A Girl’s Journey, Japan to California, 1868-1871.”

This is a story written by local author, Joan Barsotti based on the real life journey of Okei Ito from Japan to California.

The El Dorado Reads program is available to all fourth grade classrooms in the 30 El Dorado County schools. The project will run through May 30.

“We are so excited to be a part of this wonderful program, working together with the El Dorado Arts Council, the El Dorado Community Foundation and the El Dorado County Office of Education,” said Cathy Barsotti. “This book was first published by our mom in 2006. She spent years investigating and researching the story to further develop it, adding more detail to the already exciting historical fiction novel.”

Now, as part of the El Dorado Reads Okei-san project all fourth-grade students will learn about this brave young girls’ journey, and the local and national historical significance that it has.

As part of this one of a kind program, participating schools had a chance to apply for grant funds from the Joan Barsotti Foundation Fund at the El Dorado Community Foundation for a field trip to visit the Wakamatsu Tea and Silk Colony Farm.

The Wakamatsu Colony Farm, recently acquired and now managed by the American River Conservancy, is located in the Gold Hill area, a mile south of Coloma and the Marshall Gold State Historic Park.

The farm was settled by Japanese colonists from Aizu Wakamatsu in July 1869, and is believed to be the first Japanese colony in North America.

It also contains the gravesite of Okei Ito, the first Japanese woman buried on American soil. It is the birthplace of the first naturalized Japanese-American and is the only settlement established by Samurai outside of Japan.

In large part to its significance in Japanese-American relations, the site is on the National Register of Historic Places with a designation of National Significance.

On the property, students walked in Okei’s footsteps — thanks to support from the American River Conservancy, the Gold Hill Wakamatsu Foundation, and the El Dorado County California, Chapter of People to People International.

Thirty schools in El Dorado County are eligible to participate in El Dorado Reads Okei-san project. Each school will receive a kit which includes copies of the book, a reading and comprehension guide and themed accessories to help engage students in the experience.

“The Foundation is honored to administer the Joan Barsotti Foundation Fund on behalf of the Barsotti family,” said Pamela Hagen, community relations coordinator for the El Dorado Community Foundation. “The El Dorado READs project exemplifies the essence of who Joan was and her passion for both youth and the rich Japanese history that exists with regard to the Wakamatsu Tea and Silk Colony.”

Barsotti lived in an orchard, in a log cabin, in front of a forest. She wrote and published children’s picture books and was a popular visiting author at elementary schools throughout Northern California.

Barsotti received her BA degree in child psychology from the University of California, Berkeley. She and her husband Gael own an apple orchard and juice mill in Camino. She was a happy grandmother whose six grandchildren, from 4 years old to 22, provided unlimited and interesting ideas for her stories and characters.

Barsotti’s books are all based on real events. She saw beauty and excitement in the people and world she knew and researched that which she did not know. She found writing in itself to be exciting and even relished doing the rewriting. She loved to share the magic of writing and book publishing with schoolchildren, and she visited many schools in Northern California and Nevada.

El Dorado Community Foundation

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