Pearl Harbor and World War II: History
From as early as 1937, several nations throughout the world had become engaged in war. Germany's Nazis, ruled by the dictator Adolf Hitler, sought to create a pure race, ridding the world of those Hitler considered to be inferior, especially the Jewish. As the Nazis spread their reign of terror throughout Europe, Japan sought to control the Far East with its imperialism (1). China and Japan became engaged in conflict, but even as late as 1941, the United States appeared to want to remain neutral in the world's affairs, despite economic sanctions made in 1940 to prevent Japan from taking the Philippines, after it had wrestled Indochina from France. By 1941, the Japanese were so enraged by the United States and its various trade embargos that it sought to retaliate. Since half the United States naval fleet was docked at Oahu's Pearl Harbor, and the port was strategically important to Japan's dreams of controlling the entire Far East, it became a target for war (2). On Dec. 7, 1941, in the early morning hours, Japan's pilots flew over the base and bombed Pearl Harbor, demolishing eighteen American ships, over 300 American military planes, killing over 2,400 Americans, and wounding 1,178 people (3). President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared war on Dec. 8, and the United States became engaged in World War II.
: The Novel
Early Sunday Morning
, offers students several opportunities to reflect about diverse ethnic, racial, historical, age group, and gender perspectives.
A historical novel,
Early Sunday Morning
features a sixth grade girl, Amber Billows, who is moving from Washington, D.C. to Oahu, Hawaii with her older, teenaged brother, Andy, her mother, who is a nurse, and her father, who is a newspaper reporter often transferred from one city to another to capture the news. It is the father's job transfer that causes the family to relocate to Hawaii in October 1941, two months before the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor, sending the United States into World War II. This novel features imaginary characters of Japanese-American descent who are sent to internment camps following the attack on Pearl Harbor. It also includes real and imaginary American and Japanese characters and their leaders, and real and imaginary Hawaiians. In addition, the book provides diverse ethnic, racial, historical, age group, and gender perspectives by including the historical figures of the Nazis and Adolf Hitler in Germany; Benito Mussolini and his Fascist Italy; United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt; Hawaiian Queen Lili; and Great Britain's Winston Churchill. Those who became famous in the time period in other ways, such as airplane pilot Charles Lindbergh, musician Benny Goodman, and baseball teams, such as Jackie Robinson's Brooklyn Dodgers, among others, are also featured in the novel.
When the Billows family moves to Hawaii, Amber becomes friends with Kame Arata, a Japanese-American daughter of a family which functions under the "traditional" Japanese model, where the father, as the head of the household, requires everyone else to remain silent in his presence. Amber admits her all-American family is not like this; there are many times her mother will not be quiet in the presence of her dad. When Amber visits Kame's house, she finds it steeped in Japanese tradition and design. Characters are of all ages, and the gender perspectives show diversity by contrasting the way "traditional" Japanese-American women are expected to behave in the presence of men, with the opinionated, sprightly, and brave Amber and her mother as they interact with the men around them.
Early Sunday Morning
provides opportunities for interpretation by giving students a chance to explore important themes, including the importance of friendship and family life, losing loved ones, making your own mark on history, finding your own voice, and listening to a voice of the past. Amber, through her
journal, becomes a voice from the past reaching out toward today's students. She makes her own mark on history by going to the hospital after Pearl Harbor is attacked and helping her mother to nurse the wounded and dying. The theme which underlines the importance of friendship and family is depicted in the contrast of Amber, who has trouble making new friends whenever she and her family move, and her brother, Andy, who makes friends easily. Their father knows how to engage people in conversation, but his ability to make friends appears to be more closely aligned with Amber's. Both Amber and her dad, however, form deep, lasting friendships in Hawaii - Amber with Kame, and her dad with Mr. Poole, both of whom are Japanese-American. Amber loses Kame to a U.S. internment camp, and Mr. Poole dies in a fire in his house during the Pearl Harbor attack. Students interpret what these losses mean to the characters in the novel and to themselves, as they come to love the characters about whom they are reading.
In addition, students are given a chance to interpret internal and external conflict, plot, and tone. Amber's tone varies throughout the novel, from sarcastic and humorous, to callous yet understanding, to frightened and then brave. Students have plenty of opportunities to identify the various tones Amber uses throughout her journal. Since
Early Sunday Morning
contains both internal and external conflicts - the internal conflict of Amber being upset over having to move in a brand new school year and the external conflict of the Pearl Harbor attack, among other, smaller, internal and external conflicts - students are given a chance to identify the conflicts and interpret what they will mean in the final outcome of the story.
Plot is interpreted by students as the story progresses from Washington, D.C. and a little girl being concerned about making friends in a new school, to the world essentially falling apart around her in the attack on Pearl Harbor and the discovery of even greater challenges to face, such as the loss of beloved friends and family and an uncertain, worldwide future peace. Finally, students interpret how it feels to live in a world which can so suddenly put everyone in imminent danger. As Amber experiences the crises in her own life, students can reflect upon and identify with her, comparing their own losses to those felt by the characters in
Early Sunday Morning
The Great Depression: History
America had enjoyed nearly a decade of prosperity following World War I. Americans were content to be safe on home soil and to enjoy the fads and fashions of the Roaring Twenties. The automobile began to change the face of the landscape and the United States lifestyle. Industry was booming, the stock market kept rising, and it seemed prosperity would never end (4). Suddenly, on Oct. 29, 1929, a day which became known as "Black Tuesday," the stock market crashed; stockholders lost forty billion dollars, and by 1932, banks were closing daily, soup kitchens were set up to feed the hungry, and the homeless began sprouting up in cardboard shanties known as Hoovervilles (5). President Herbert Hoover, new to power in 1929, could not inspire the confidence Americans needed to pull out of the financial disaster facing them. By 1932, Roosevelt became president, and the tide began to turn, through emergency banking measures, the implementation of many programs to assist hardship victims, regain jobs, and inspire industrial recovery, and the enactment of new stock and monetary issue laws to prevent future economic woes (6). It would take nearly seven years before the nation could begin to breathe more freely, and by then, World War II was churning its way around the globe.
The Great Depression: The Novel
Christmas After All
also offers students a chance to reflect on diverse ethnic, racial, historical, age group, and gender perspectives. Minnie Swift, her parents, and four siblings are living in Indianapolis, Indiana, during the Great Depression. Her father is a chief accountant at Greenhandle Scrap Iron. Minnie has three sisters named Lady, Clem, and Gwen, and a brother named Ozzie. When the story opens, it is a few months before Christmas, and Minnie describes how her family copes with the lack of money - by planting gardens for food, making gifts for Christmas, adding cheese to various meals to stretch out the ingredients, and by making their own clothes for special events such as school parties or dances.
Minnie Swift describes the horrors of the Great Depression, how fathers once used to working daily and earning money are suddenly found destitute and distraught, feeling as though there is no choice other than to commit suicide. As her own family experiences the loss of money and copes by decreasing the numbers of rooms they use within the house, to conserve on heat, a distant family member, an orphaned cousin, Willie Faye Darling, whose parents died, arrives from the Dust Bowl of the mid-west. This child's suitcase is virtually made out of cardboard; her shoes are well worn and floppy; her clothes and kitten are as dusty and dirty as she is. When she takes a bath, the dirt blackens the water and tub, frightening the little girl, who cannot see how it will ever be clean again. But Minnie Swift takes cleanser and dissolves the filth, making the tub look new again. This orphan child is the picture of wisdom. Her knowledge and spiritual resolve, her sense of humor, and her ability to love everyone brighten even the most dreary of days during the Great Depression, including when Minnie's father leaves the family, apparently for good.
Students are given the opportunity to experience a wide range of family relationships within the novel, including those with siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Through this novel, children experience life in the 1930s, with vivid descriptions of scenery, characters, and personalities of all ages and genders. Entertainment, in the form of radio shows and news broadcasts and movies in theaters, is also aptly described in the novel. Students achieve a clear glimpse of life in the 1930s through the eyes of Minnie Swift, and the emotional ties they make with the characters linger long after the book is read.
Both historical novels include detailed, factual descriptions of the eras they portray in the back of each book. World War II and the Great Depression, from beginning to end, are concisely summarized, and there are pictures from the time periods, as well. It would be a good idea to present the factual material detailed in the back of each book as an introduction to each novel, thus setting the scene for the students before they begin reading. Students would be aware the novels are based on historical fact and will contain elements of reality.