On the Horizon recalls two pivotal events of World War II through the eyes of witnesses, victims, and two children who would meet much later.
On the Horizon: World War II Reflections by Lois Lowry, illustrated by Kenard Pak. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020, 71 pages.
Reading Level: Middle Grades, 8-10
Recommended for: ages 10-14
Lois Lowry’s father was a Navy surgeon. Some her earliest memories are of the years he was stationed in Honolulu in the years just before the event known as Pearl Harbor. She remembers playing on the beach with her grandmother as her dad took home movies with an old Bell & Howell. Years later, when visiting her aging folks, Dad gave her the old film to save on VCR. One night, while watching the video with dinner guests, a friend with a navy background suddenly leaned forward. “Look on the horizon,” he said. “That’s the Arizona.” The gray bulk of a battleship, barely visible in the mist, trolled the blue ocean behind little Lois and her grandmother. Only months later, it would become a permanent tomb for hundreds of American Sailors.
Four years later, a bomb would flatten the city of Hiroshima. Miles away, a boy named Koichi Seii witnessed the strange cloud that bloomed on the horizon. Later he and his mother would move to Tokyo around the same time Lois Lowry’s family moved there while her father was stationed at the Navy hospital. The boy worked at his family’s shop while the girl spent her free hours pedaling around Tokyo on her green bicycle.
Personal recollection: I heard Lois Lowry speak about her early life and experience in Japan some years ago. The climax of the story, for most of the audience, came when she described speaking at the ALA Youth Media Awards banquet after winning the Newbery medal for The Giver. The Caldecott winner that year was Alan Say, for his picture book, Grandfather’s Journey. The two met at dinner, and during the conversation they both realized that they had been in Tokyo at the same time. In fact . . . “You were the girl on the green bicycle!” Alan Say suddenly realized–the man whose Japanese name was Koichi Seii.
We could not be friends. Not then, not yet./ Until the cloud dispersed and cleared, /we needed time to mend, forget.
Paths cross in mysterious and surprising ways, not only with other individuals but with events that would become history. In this short book of simple and affecting poetry, Lowry observes her own small shadow cast upon great events. Most of the poems are about other small shadows: sailors, civilians, old men, a curious boy and girl. She makes no judgments but acknowledges the humanity of everyone involved, “making silent promises to our fellow humans that we will work for a better and more peaceful future.”
Overall Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)
- Worldview/moral value: 4
- Artistic/literary value: 5
Also at Redeemed Reader
- Thoughts on The Giver and our review of Son, the last volume of the series.
- Lowry’s other Newbery-honor book, Number the Stars, was 25 years old in 2014. Where does the time go? Betsy has thoughts.
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