Synopses & Reviews
In June 1942, seven months after attacking Pearl Harbor, the Japanese navy invaded Alaska's Aleutian Islands. For nine thousand years the Aleut people had lived and thrived on these treeless, windswept lands. Within days of the first attack, the entire native population living west of Unimak Island was gathered up and evacuated to relocation centers in the dense forests of Alaska's Southeast. andlt;BRandgt; With resilience, compassion, and humor, the Aleuts responded to the sorrows of upheaval and dislocation. This is the story of Vera, a young Aleut caught up in the turmoil of war. It chronicles her struggles to survive and to keep community and heritage intact despite harsh conditions in an alien environment.
"Hesse once again uses free verse to explore a historical period, but while the poetry of her Out of the Dust and Witness built a broad picture of events through the layering of a fully formed cast, here character development is sacrificed in favor of atmospheric details. Narrator Vera goes home to Kashega on the Aleutian Islands ('a necklace of jewels around the throat of the Bering Sea,' as an elder describes them) for the summer of 1942, never dreaming that the older couple she looks after in Unalaska Village (also on the islands) would be bombed by the Japanese. The U.S. government then rounds up the Aleutians and transports them 'safely out of the way' of the war, to relocation camps on Ward Lake, eight miles from Ketchikan, Alaska. There, surrounded by alien trees where 'we find not a single leaf we recognize,' Vera watches many die of disease (including her best friend, Pari), is abandoned by her mother, who moves to Ketchikan without her, and realizes she is in love with her childhood friend Alfred. The poetic images will linger in the minds of readers. Yet because the audience learns so little of Vera's interior life, her plight lacks impact, and her homecoming falls short of triumphant. Ages 10-14." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
The Newbery Medalist ("Out of the Dust") tells the searing story of a young Aleut girl who, with the residents of her village, is forced to leave her home and enter an internment camp after the Japanese invasion of the Aleutian Islands during World War II.
About the Author
Newbery winner andlt;Bandgt;Karen Hesseandlt;/Bandgt; re-creates Cook's momentous voyage through the eyes of this remarkable boy, creating a fictional journal filled with fierce hurricanes, warring natives, and disease, as Nick discovers new lands, incredible creatures, and lifelong friends.
Reading Group Guide
A GUIDE FOR READING GROUPS
By Karen Hesse
ABOUT THE BOOK
In June 1942, Japanese forces attacked the Aleutian Islands. Within days of the attack, the U.S. military removed the native people of these islands to relocation centers in Alaska's southwest, supposedly for their own protection. Conditions in these camps were deplorable. The Aleuts were held for approximately three years, and many of them died. In a series of short, unrhymed verses, Hesse tells this moving story through the eyes and voice of Vera, a girl of Aleut and Caucasian heritage.
Aleuts; Alaska; World War II; Internment/relocation camps; Historical fiction
- Describe Vera's relationship with her mother.
- Read page 103. Why does Vera think music would have helped them in the camp? Do you agree that music holds this power?
- Why is the book named Aleutian Sparrow? See page 93 for help.
- What were the effects on the people and the environment of the relocation in both areas, the islands and mainland?
- If you were forced from your home, what treasured possessions would you take with you? Why?
- In the author's note on page 155, Hesse writes: "The damage done in those three years to the Aleut culture is incalculable." Explain how the culture, not just people and possessions, was damaged.
- What constituted the ecosystem in the area during the time of this story? How is it the same or different today?
- Study Hesse's use of free verse poetry and identify some of her excellent examples of figurative language (similes, metaphors, personification, etc.). Write your own poem based on her free verse model, being sure to include figurative language.
- On page 88, Pari's mother plans to write letters asking for help. Write your own letter, from the point of view of someone at the camp, persuading the government to help correct the unbearable conditions of the camp.
Please visit http://www.emporia.edu/libsv/wawbookaward/ for more information about the awards and to see curriculum guides for other master list titles.
This reading group guide is for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.
Prepared by Amy Brownlee
© William Allen White Children's Book Award