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Aleutian Sparrow

Aleutian Sparrow

4.6 3
by Karen Hesse, Evon Zerbetz (Illustrator)

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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


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.
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.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The narrator, who lives and works on the Aleutian Islands, describes the aftermath of the Japanese bombing there in the summer of 1942. According to PW, "The poetic images will linger in the minds of readers." Ages 10-14. (June) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
Within days of the Japanese invasion of the Aleutian Islands in June of 1942, the United States government relocated the native people of these islands to southeast Alaska. In unrhymed poetic form Hesse recounts the hardships endured by these people in the camps to which they were sent. Through the eyes of a young teenage girl, the reader observes the changes in the lives of the people as they try to hold on to their culture in an environment that is culturally, socially and physically destructive. Hesse presents a little known part of World War II history while showing great admiration for the Aleuts. There is great depth to the characters, the setting and the feelings of and for this culture that was so devastated in the three years of relocation. It is amazing how the author can exude from the reader such a full range of emotions within the historical context of the story. This is a bittersweet tale of friendship, and a cautionary tale on the importance of culture, tradition and freedom. 2003, Margaret K McElderry/Simon & Schuster, Ages 10 to 14.
— Sharon Salluzzo
A beautifully designed cover introduces this series of short poems that tell a story about Aleutian people during WW II. The Japanese bombed some of their villages, and "for their own protection" the U.S. government relocated them to camps in the Alaskan forests, a place completely different from the windswept, treeless islands they knew. They longed for the life on the islands during their years of exile, and when they returned home after the war, their villages were mostly destroyed by the U.S. troops stationed there. The narrator is an adolescent girl, whose father is white and whose mother is Aleut. "She never, never talks about the day my father did not come home." Like so many other Aleutian people, the narrator's best friend Pari dies when they are in exile, unable to adjust to the strange new climate and diet. Her mother is lured by the white culture and abandons her people. But others cling to their memories and return to the islands after the war, determined to start anew. The author includes a note at the end of the poems telling the factual history of the Aleutian people during the war, and there is a brief glossary. Hesse, as usual, displays her mastery of this form; creating a novel in poetry. This subject is more obscure than some others she has addressed, such as the Great Depression in her prize-winning Out of the Dust and small-town racial bigotry in Witness, but it does add to her impressive body of literature for YAs. KLIATT Codes: JS; Recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2003, Simon & Schuster, 156p.,
— Claire Rosser
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up-As with previous titles, Karen Hesse has once again successfully portrayed historical events in a free verse format (S&S, 2003). Read in measured, beautiful tones by Sarah Jones, the story of the virtual imprisonment of Aleutian Islanders for three years during World War II is told through the voice of Vera, a teenager. After the Japanese attack on the Aleutian Islands in June 1942, the U.S. military moved the Aleuts to the Alaska mainland and stationed troops on the remote islands. Vera tells the story of families from five villages, relocated on short notice to an inland environment for which they were unprepared. They were faced with extremely limited housing, almost no food, no medical care or supplies, and limited contact with the outside world. Their story is presented in a kaleidoscopic array of beautiful poems of varying lengths and import, from brief views of lyrical or touching moments to longer explorations of events and people. Jones reads this teenage voice beautifully. The individual poem headings and the brevity of some of them could lead to some confusion at the beginning, but listeners will soon adjust to the format. Following along with the book while listening will eliminate any problems. An outstanding addition to this tape is an interview with a surviving islander who was relocated for the duration of the war with her family. This first-hand account verifies and amplifies the facts of this time in American history. This story makes a compelling addition to any study of Native Americans, Japanese relocation, and World War II. As a poignant and beautifully told memoir, it brings these events to life. An excellent choice for middle, high school, and public library collections.-Jane P. Fenn, Corning-Painted Post West High School, NY Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The historical facts are as starkly unforgiving as the Aleutian landscape, but not as beautiful. During WWII, the government removed five Aleut villages to a camp in Southeast Alaska after the Japanese bombed and occupied islands in America's farthest northwest. Returning after three years, they found their villages in ruins. In Hesse's hands, facts become the elegiac thoughts of Vera, a half-Aleut teen. Contained in Vera's unrhymed verses are Aleutian traditions, small details of camp life, and hints of racism, delivered with quiet innocence that belie the deepest wounds. The relocation was full of loss because numbers of Aleuts, in an alien forest climate far from the sea, either moved to take jobs in the nearby town (Vera's mother) or sickened and died (her best friend). With a whisper-soft touch, Hesse's clear, resonant verses and delicate imagery will break hearts. At the end, readers will be haunted by a hope-filled love that has grown between Vera and Alfred in the camp and by a government that says, "We are moving you to save you." (Historical fiction. 10-15). . . Hoffman, Mary STRAVAGANZA II: CITY OF STARS Oct. 2003

Product Details

Margaret K. McElderry Books
Publication date:
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.50(d)
Age Range:
10 - 14 Years

Read an Excerpt


May-June 1942

Summer in Kashega

The old ones, Alexie and Fekla, they say,

"Go, Vera. Go to Kashega. See your mother, your friends.

It is only for the summer," they say.

"Go. Nothing will happen to us."

So I go, eager to visit Kashega,

Riding the mail boat out of Unalaska Bay as Alexie and Fekla Golodoff, and our snug house in Unalaska village, and my photographs and books, my little skiff,

And my twelve handsome chickens,

All fade into the fog.

What War?

I arrive in Kashega. My friends Pari and Alfred squabble over me like a pair of seagulls fighting for a crab claw. My mother greets me like a stranger, with an Americanchin hug, then touches my hair.

There is no sign of trouble here. We have crayon days, big and happy.

The windows sparkle at night.

I had forgotten how a lighted window shines without blackout paper.

The Japanese

They weren't always our enemy. There was a time when the Japanese sailed in and their crews played baseball with our Aleut teams.

But we saw what they were up to. We warned our government about Japanese who charted our shorelines, who studied our harbors from their fishing boats.

Our Japanese visitors expected always an amiable Aleut welcome. But when the hand of friendship was withdrawn,

They took their measurements and made their calculations anyway.

Life in Kashega

In the beginning, when I first moved away to Unalaska village to live with Alexie and Fekla Golodoff, I longed for Kashega. Kashega winter, when the men trap the blue fox. Kashega summer, when they hire themselves out to take the fur seal off the Pribilofs. All the Kashega year, with the boats bringing home sweet duck and fat sea lion.

Kashega autumns splash with salmon swimming into traps to become a winter of dry fish.

Sometimes sheep to shear, sometimes driftwood on the

beach, sometimes an odd job.

And always Solomon's little store, lit by kerosene, where the men drink salmonberry wine and solve the problems of our people.

Solomon's Store

Zachary Solomon ran the Kashega store for ten years maybe.

But when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Zachary Solomon went to war.

Always a white man has run the store.

But my mother took over when Zachary Solomon left.

And she likes it.

Hot-Spring Memory

"Remember," I ask my mother, "how we visited Akutan

And walked the path up into the hills, passing the boiling springs, climbing higher, to where blossoms framed the steaming pools like

masses of perfumed hair?

"Remember," I ask my mother, "how we waded in? Could we go again?"

"Maybe," she says, never looking up, lost in the pages of Life.

My Mother

My mother never talks about when she was young and she did not listen to the old ways to keep a man safe. How she closed her ears to the Aleut tales.

She never talks about how she met and fell in love with and married a white man, how she sent him to sea without a seal-gut coat. She never talks about the storms driving in and piling up the waves. How time after time she watched from the headlands, fighting the winds, waiting for my father's boat to come in.

She never says how I waited beside her, my fist crushing the seam of her skirt.

And she never, never talks about the day my father did not come home.

Even the Storms

Pari and I sit in the new spring grass watching a storm approach from the distance. "Have you missed Kashega?" she asks.

I nod, remembering the welcoming kitchens, the Christmas star of wood and glass,

The way our laughter crackled on winter nights like sugar frosting, the smell of our skin after a day gathering wildflowers in the summer hills.

Pari pulls me up with both hands, and we race to her house down the mountain path, wind walls rising around us, rain filling the gray cheeks of the sky.

White Orchid

"Last summer," I remind Pari as we dry off in her kitchen. "Last summer you led the way, carrying the fish basket to the far side of the lake. And we gathered bulbs of white orchid."

Pari says, "And Alfred's mother boiled the bulbs for us, and we rolled them in pools of warm fat and ate them with our fingers."

We lick our lips, remembering, and Pari combs out her hair and mine, and we promise to dig orchids again this August

When I get back with Alfred's family from fish camp.


She is more like my mother than I will ever be.

She likes all things cheechako.

She is only part Aleut, as I am, her father, like mine, a white man.

But while I like to sit with Alfred's family listening to the old stories, Pari prefers the store and my mother and the pages of the Sears and Roebuck catalog.

My Work

I was six when I stood outside Alfred's grandfather's house, where the old ways steep like tea in a cup of hours. Alfred's mother opened the door and gazed down at my small fists hanging by my sides. She understood my wanting. She said I could live in her house sometimes if I needed.

Eva, her daughter, dressed and fed me. She carried me on her hip like a big doll. Alfred, her son, taught me to fish and to row a skiff. The family taught me their stories.

I grew up seeing my mother every day, but spending most of my time in Alfred's house.

"Your work, Vera," Alfred's grandfather told me before I moved to Unalaska village, "your work is to know the ways of our people." I am good at my work.

Why I Left Kashega in the First Place

Not enough children to keep the school open.

And after my father died, I never listened to my mother.

Alexie and Fekla Golodoff, the old man and woman from Unalaska village,

They lived near a school. And they needed a girl

to help them.

Unalaska Village

I tell Pari, "We have a hospital, a post office, restaurants, a movie theater, a store so big you could maybe fit half of Kashega inside it." Pari looks away, jealous.

"The men work as fishermen," I say, "in construction, as longshoremen and hunters. We have a deputy marshal and a commissioner.

We have a church, a beautiful church, which the Golodoffs care for like a blessed child."

"And how do they care for you?" Pari asks.

Life in Unalaska Village

"All our childrens are dead," the Golodoffs told me. "We are old people. We need someone to look out for us."

I clean for them. I carry and chop and fetch for them. I weave fresh grass rugs for them.

And they teach me to make things their way, like the seal-gut pants and the seal-gut coats, and they tell me stories every night. We are rich enough and we are happy enough

And I am away just for a little while to visit my mother and my friends in Kashega when the Japanese change everything.

Text copyright © 2003 by Karen Hesse

Meet the Author

Newbery winner Karen Hesse 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.

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Aleutian Sparrow 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really liked this book and would recommend it to readers of all ages. It tells the story of ww2 when the natives of the Aleutian islands were moved from their homes by the American government. I think this book is like a double-edged wammy of greatness, because it has two components that I really appreciated; firstly, it's somewhat of a long poem, describing the beauty of the Alutian islands with metaphor. Secondly, the problem faced by the main charactervis true history. I only wish it didn't end so abruptly. Other than that it was great.