Early Morning Sunday: The Pearl Harbor Diary of Amber Billows

The Dear America Series
Early Morning Sunday: The Pearl Harbor Diary of Amber Billows
Hawaii, 1941
by Barry Denenberg
I have officially finished reading book 47 for my 50 books challenge! As mentioned in a previous post, I have a small collection of these types of books and want to read them to free up some shelf space. Ideally, it shouldn't take me that long, but my reading mojo has been missing since October. I didn't read a darn thing in November! In any case, this small book took about a week for me to read.

Dear America: Early Morning SundayThese books appeal to me because they have a vintage, old style to them that I love. They're compact and have a lovely ribbon bookmark that's sewn into the book. Their size and covers feel good in your hands and the paper feels good as you turn the pages.

The story was published by Scholastic, Inc, Oct. 2001. The book is a short, 154 pages but is printed with a large font. The number of pages also include photos from the event (in this case, Pearl Harbor), an epilogue so you find out what happened to the character in the future, and a few pages about "Life in 1941." The copyright page is in the very back of the book and includes a disclaimer that the character is fictional, as well as her journal and epilogue.

The Diary follows Amber Billows, a young girl whose father is a reporter. Periodically, he makes a family announcement that they will be moving--yet again!--in order for him to "smooze" with a new group of people (allowing him to get information to write his articles). They are uprooted from Washington, D.C. to a new place outside of the United States--Hawaii!

I enjoyed this book not because it was a quick read (or, it should have been for me!) but because it gave me what I was hoping it would: a sense of what that period in time was like around the specific event. You got the feeling of being in Hawaii during that time and it was easy to imagine the hustle and bustle of the military walking around. The general ambiance of the book was exactly what I was after...although I ended up with a slap of reality.

I was lucky enough to be allowed to read what I wanted growing up. Generally, it was Nancy Drew or Sweet Valley High. I hope one day to allow that same privilege to my own children one day (when I have them someday), however, this book is a good example of not only reading what your children read so you are aware of the material they are exposed to, but also having a discussion about the book with them.

The book is a middle grade book so it is age appropriate to discuss the events in the book honestly, however, even though I myself do not have children, I was a bit taken aback by what was include in the book.

SPOILER ALERT: I am going to discuss the issues I had with the book in detail.

My first shock came on page 75. Amber's father makes friends with Lieutenant Lockhart, who is very passionate about fighting against the Japanese. In one fell swoop he uses racist slang for those of Japanese decent, as well as an intense curse word. I was surprised to read this terminology in a middle grade novel. I understand it is historical, however, it is also geared towards children and you don't find that kind of language in the majority of middle grade novels. The language gives you a very clear understanding of where some people stood regarding the war and Japan at the time, and their mindset, however, this paragraph is what I was thinking of when I said you need to read this book and discuss it with your child. The child needs to understand the way of thinking during that time period and why it is not okay to repeat that language now (the offensive curse word and the racist terminology).

Once the Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor, Amber's friend, Kame, has to come to terms with the military taking her father away. There is not a lot of explanation regarding the Japanese internment camps and the effects that had on Japanese Americans, so again, this may be a good opportunity to discuss it with your child and to do further research on the reality of what that meant (The Dear America includes a book on this topic, The Diary of Piper Davis: The Fences Between Us, but it is from the perspective of a Caucasian girl looking in. I think a better perspective would be that of a Japanese American who had no choice but to experience the camps). The Epilogue names a Relocation Center, but there is no other information provided.

Dear America: Early Morning SundayAnother opportunity to speak with your child comes in the Epilogue. The Epilogue is, for lack of a better way to put it, written harshly and bluntly. It speaks of the aforementioned Lieutenant Lockhart's divorce, addiction to painkillers and suicide. It states Kame's father was released the next year, and the entire family relocated to a Japanese internment camp, and later, Kame and her husband's deaths in a car accident soon after she became a mother. The only happy note is that Amber tracked down Kame's daughter (in an orphanage!) and adopted her with her own husband.

The Epilogue, quite frankly, blows my mind. As if the book itself is not difficult enough to process, every single thing mentioned in the Epilogue in quick succession needs to be discussed with your child after the read it. It is like a bullet list of Big, Deep Topics.
  • Why do you think Lieutenant Lockhart became addicted to painkillers and subsequently got divorced? Do you understand how that is related to the trauma of experiencing Pearl Harbor first hand and what PTSD is? Why do you think he felt like suicide was the only way out?
  • Why do you think they held Kame's father for so long? Do you understand how suspicious people were of Japanese Americans, even if they were citizens of the United States and why they moved them to internment camps? Let's look into that, together, and discuss what occurred. 
  • Why was an orphanage the only option for Grace, Kame's daughter, when Kame and her husband passed away in the car accident?
There are so many questions my mind is overwhelmed. The book itself raises a lot of questions about Pearl Harbor, especially for a young reader. My favorite part were the photos included in the back of the book. Not only did they have photos taken by Americans, but there are also a couple of photos taken by the Japanese of the event from their perspective. The photographs show how a fictional story is based on a real event, however, I feel a lot more research needs to be done when a child is done reading it in order to show them the true facts of the attack--photos, internment camps, etc. There are a lot of explanation the child needs regarding the heavy information that is included in the books.

In conclusion, this book creates a lot more questions than it answers regarding the Pearl Harbor attacks. It requires discussions with your child regarding the events in the book, as well as follow up discussions regarding the true events and the effects a traumatic event can have on a person.



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