Aleutian Sparrow

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
Aleutian Sparrow Book Poster Image
Historical verse novel falls flat despite engaging subject.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The author includes facts that inspired Vera's story in the afterward. Readers will be moved by this unusual bit of history, and may want to learn more about the Aleuts and other World War II stories.

Positive Messages

This story will inspire readers to think about intolerance -- and the struggle people go through to keep what's important to them alive, even during horrendous times.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Vera's grandfather tells her, "Your work is to know the ways of our people." This she tries to do in the face of hardship, disease, and death.

Violence

Describes the toll the forced deportation has on the Aleuts. For example, Vera's best friend dies.

Sex
Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this book deals with a little-known part of American history: Native Aleutian Islanders who were evacuated in advance of the Japanese invasion of their islands. For three years they were held in camps, supposedly for their protection, where a quarter of them died of various diseases. In this fictional story, told in free verse, Vera's best friend is one of those who dies. Vera herself is a strong character: her grandfather tells her, "Your work is to know the ways of our people." This she tries to do in the face of hardship, disease, and death. Kids will need background, context, and help understanding how such a thing could have happened; you may want to read the author's factual notes in the book's afterward with them first.

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What's the story?

In a series of short, free-verse poems, Newbery-winning author Hesse tells the story of the native Aleutian Islanders who were evacuated in advance of the Japanese invasion of their islands. For three years they were held in camps, supposedly for their protection, where a quarter of them died of various diseases. Finally allowed to return home, they found their homes and belongings had been destroyed by bombs and by bored US servicemen. Their story is told by half-Aleut Vera who, unlike her best friend Pari, holds on to the old, traditional ways. Her grandfather tells her, "Your work is to know the ways of our people." This she tries to do in the face of hardship, disease, and death.

Is it any good?

Though not as unrelentingly depressing as the author's award-winning Out of the Dust, this book is filled with little action, little characterization, and little hope. Karen Hesse has an important story to tell, and readers may be initially drawn in by the unusual piece of history. They may also be intrigued by the free verse form. But without plot, vivid characters, or emotional power, this book is unlikely to captivate many kids.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about World War II. What other depictions have you seen or read? Do you think it's important that we continue learning about historical events, like what happened to the Aleuts?

  • What did you think of this book's format? Why do you think the author decided to write it in free verse? How would the story have been different if it had been written in a narrative form?

Book details

For kids who love historical stuff

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