Operation: Happy by Jenni L. Walsh

Operation: Happy is the story of a girl and her dog experiencing the attack on Pearl Harbor and challenges that followed.

Operation: Happy: A World War II Story of Courage, Resilience, and an Unbreakable Bond by Jenni L. Walsh. Zonderkidz, 2024, 223 pages.

Reading Level: Middle Grades, ages 8-10

Recommended for: ages 8-12 for independent readers.

Military kids are accustomed to relocating, but Jody isn’t sure what to expect when her dad is posted to Hawaii in the fall of 1940. It’s the farthest she’s ever traveled, and there seems to be an unusual level of security about this particular deployment. But home is where the family is, and besides her parents and older sister Peggy, family includes the dog Jody got two years earlier. The German shepherd-collie mix is not just a “dog”—he’s a military mutt, a trained service animal whose name perfectly suits his disposition: Happy.

Turns out there’s a lot to like about Hawaii, such as surfing, pool parties in January, and early-afternoon school dismissals. Mom seems to be continually on edge, though, and her anxiety heightens when the air raid drills begin. Do the grownups know something the kids don’t? Jody gets her answer on the morning of December 7, when Japanese bombers rain fire from the sky. The family barely has time to recover before orders come down that they’ll be evacuated to San Francisco—without Dad, of course. “I’m leaving you in charge,” he tells Jody, just before they embark for the states and cobbled-together accommodations in a city of strangers. That’s a lot of responsibility for a 12-year-old, even with her loyal companion at her side.

Operation: Happy is a tale of overcoming with luck and pluck, told from alternating human and canine points of view. The story touches on some heavy topics like war, devastation, and adult depression without delving too deep, but that’s appropriate for readers at this age. Though church is part of the family routine and “Thank Jesus!” is a sincere expression at one highly stressful moment, faith doesn’t seem to play a large part in Jody’s development as a leader. Still, younger fans of World War II and historical fiction will enjoys this encouraging story.

Overall Rating: 4

  • Worldview/moral value: 4.5
  • Artistic/literary value: 3.5

Read more about our ratings here.

Also at Redeemed Reader:

  • Reflection: We interviewed Dorinda Nicholson, author of  Pearl Harbor Child, as she recalls her experience as a 6-year-old in Honolulu on Dec. 7, 1941.
  • Review: Lois Lowry’s military family was also stationed at Pearl Harbor. On the Horizon is her thoughtful verse memoir.
  • Review: Race against Death uses various perspectives to tell of the fall of the Philippines and the four-year nightmare that followed.

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Janie Cheaney

Janie is the VERY senior staff writer for Redeemed Reader, as well as a long-time contributor to WORLD Magazine and an author of nine books for children. The rest of the time she's long-distance smooching on her four grandchildren (not an easy task). She lives with her equally senior husband of almost-fifty years in the Ozarks of Missouri.

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