The Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction is an annual honor given to an outstanding kids’ historical fiction set in the Western Hemisphere. Each month I read one of the award winners and point out things I learned or things of which the book is an excellent example.
This month’s book for My Scott O’Dell Award Challenge is the 2000 award winner, Two Suns in the Sky by Miriam Bat-Ami.
This young adult historical fiction novel is set in Italy and Oswego, New York, during the last couple years of World War II. It features two protagonists: Chris, an Irish Catholic girl from Oswego who wants to break free of her life and join the war effort, and Adam, a Yugoslavian Jewish boy who is a refugee from the Holocaust.
Adam and part of his family are brought to the Emergency Refuge Shelter at Ft. Ontario (just outside Oswego), the only U.S. refugee camp during the war. The two teens fall in love, but neither one of their families approve.
This novel contains some mild sexual content.
Multiple point-of-view protagonists–Most kids’ historical fiction I’ve read have only one protagonist. In fact, the only kids’ historical fiction I can think of off-hand with multiple protagonists are verse novels–and next month’s challenge book.
However, lots of young adult (and adult) romances also have multiple protagonists. Although Two Suns in the Sky is not a true romance–it’s more like the Romeo and Juliet kind of romance–the story is told from both Chris and Adam’s first-person point-of-views.
This works well in a suspense or mystery when the author wants the reader to know more than the characters do. But it also works well in showing differing viewpoints of the shared events.
Previously, authors may have had multiple protagonists, but they told the story from an all-knowing narrator’s point-of-view. Now, more often, each protagonist narrates his or her own story (sometimes in first-person, sometimes in a very close third person), with each getting his or her own scenes or chapters. This allows readers to experience the story with the protagonists.
However, each protagonist must have his or her own story arc and undergo some type of change or growth by the end of story. In a nutshell, the author is giving the reader two intertwining and interdependent stories.
Two Suns in the Sky opened my eyes to a situation I knew nothing about–the Emergency Refugee Center at Ft. Ontario, outside Oswego, New York, at the end of World War II. Much of the U.S. population did not know the extent of the horrors of the Holocaust until late in the war. Many who did know that the Jews in Europe were being persecuted wanted the U.S. to help Jewish refugees. Finally in 1945, President Roosevelt ordered the opening of one refugee camp, Ft. Ontario, to about 900 refugees (mostly Jewish) from Europe.
The refugees were told this was a temporary situation; they would be returned to Europe when the war was over. But, apparently, no one had made clear to the refugees they would be kept in a camp and not just “let loose.” When they arrived in the U.S., put on trains, and taken to a fenced-in military fort, many had visions of the Nazi concentration camps and understandably panicked at first.
However, the children were allowed to attend the local Oswego schools, and some Oswego locals supplied food, clothing, and friendship to the refugees. In fact, some of the locals testified to and lobbied the government to allow the refugees to stay and become citizens. The government did allow the refugees to immigrate to the U.S. without having to go back to Europe.
For more information about the Emergency Refugee Center:
Join me Tuesday, May 31, to talk about the 1994 winner of the Scott O’Dell Award, Bull Run by Paul Fleischman.
Do you prefer stories with one or multiple protagonists? Have you heard of the WWII Emergency Refuge Shelter in New York? Do you know of other books about the refugees who lived at the shelter?
This month’s book for My Scott O’Dell Award Challenge is the 1995 winner, Under the Blood-Red Sun by Graham Salisbury.
The book opens on a fall day 1941 near Honolulu, Hawaii, when eighth-grader Tomikazu’s grandfather decides to hang out his newly-washed Japanese flag–where the neighbors can see it. Tomi and his little sister were born in Hawaii, and their parents and grandfather are first generation immigrants. His father is a fisherman, and his mother is a housekeeper. Tomi and his friends–Japanese, white, Hawaiian, and Portuguese–depend on family, friends, and baseball when their world is turned upside-down on Dec. 7.
1. Start off with tension. In the first three pages, we see Tomi arguing with his grandpa about showing his Japanese flag. Even kids who might not know the historical context will still see that Tomi is very nervous about what his grandpa is doing, and they argue about whether Tomi is Japanese or American. We don’t get a break, either, as the first chapter ends with the neighborhood bully messing with Tomi’s father’s beloved pigeons. I had to keep reading!
2. Half-point death. I’ve been learning–over and over again–how books and movies usually have something major happen right in the middle It’s often a death or near-death, and it can be literal or symbolic. This plot technique give structure to a story. It also allows the character to hit a low-point, yet come back with a new or slightly different motivation and/or goal. It seems to be a point where the character has to dedicate, or rededicate, himself or herself to the goal. In the case of Under the Blood-Red Sun, the half-point death is the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor and the arrest of Tomi’s father.
3. Focus on the character’s experience. Salisbury keeps the focus on Tomi and his world. First we get to know Tomi, his family, and the issues that this eighth-grader is dealing with, including a science project, baseball games, a bully, and pre-war racial tensions. Then, when Pearl Harbor is bombed, we see it from the distance of Tomi’s mountain home. It gives the reader, especially young readers, some distance from the horror of that day. However, Salisbury does bring some of the horror to Tomi because a Japanese plane flies right over his home and the pilot shoots at them.
Another way Salisbury shields young readers is by keeping all the human deaths “off-screen,” yet he brings death close when the pigeons die. [I won’t say more–spoilers.] We see the awfulness, in a way that hits Tomi, and the readers, worse than the deaths of unknown soldiers. Plus, the story is Tomi’s and how he learns to stand up for himself and his family–yet in a way that honors both himself and his family.
1. Japanese internment/arrests on Hawaii. One of the horrible things about WWII was the mass arrests and internment of the Japanese-Americans by the U.S. I knew about the internment of whole families from the West Coast, but I wasn’t as familiar with what happened on the Hawaiian islands. It happened there, too, but slightly different. Right after the bombing, many Japanese men were arrested, just because they were Japanese, but especially if they were leaders in the Japanese community. There was so much fear that they may have helped, or would help, the Japanese government attack the US. Later, many of the men are transferred to prison camps on the Mainland and many of their families were sent to join them.
In the book, Tomi’s father is arrested right away. The loss of his income puts the already-poor family into immediate crisis. Plus, Tomi lives with the anxiety of not knowing where his father is, if he’s okay, and if or when he’s coming home.
2. Examples of hatred, fear, compassion, bravery, and honor. One of the best things about historical fiction is how it makes events and people real to us. It makes us care about others’ stories.
In Under the Blood-Red Sun, we see how ashamed Tomi’s grandfather is that his beloved birth country would attack the U.S., and how it hurts him so much because of his culture’s emphasis on honor. He kept trying to teach Tomi about family honor, yet he was betrayed by his former land. We also see the reactions of Tomi’s neighbors toward them. Some responded with hate, some were just afraid, some continued to give their friendship and support. Salisbury brought it all down to concrete examples that Tomi experiences and then readers experience through Tomi.
Join me Tuesday, Dec. 16 (before my Christmas blog break) to talk about the 1987 winner, Streams to the River, River to the Sea by Scott O’Dell.
Children’s historical fiction is full of difficult subjects, yet handled in appropriate ways for younger readers. What are some other books (for readers younger than 14) that deal with war, death, prejudice, in an intense but appropriate way? Next month will be the 73rd anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. How should we commemorate that day? How do we differentiate between a government’s action from an ethnic group’s culture? What are some other books/movies that have a midpoint death?
U.S. Army/Flickr Creative Commons
Friday, June 6, 2014, is the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the day the Allies landed at Normandy in France during World War II and started their march east to Nazi Germany.
I think D-Day became real for me years ago when I read The Longest Day by Cornelius Ryan.
Now, I’m working on D-Day: The Invasion of Normandy, 1944 by Rick Atkinson and Kate Waters (2014), which is adapted for children from Atkinson’s book The Guns at Last Light. I found D-Day in the children’s section of one of my local bookstores, but I think most kids would not enjoy it until high school–partly because most 20th century American history doesn’t seem to be covered in classes until high school–unless they are history or military enthusiasts.
I don’t have any family stories about it: my grandfather served in the Pacific, and my great-uncle was sent to France after D-Day. But a dear friend, Enfys McMurry, wrote a book about the history of my previous hometown, and she included stories of people I knew or knew of (or knew of their family) who participated in the invasion. Her book is Centerville: A Mid-American Saga (History Press, 2012).
What’s your, or a friend or family member’s, D-Day story? What’s your favorite book or movie about D-Day? Do you know of other kids books about D-Day?