On the Horizon

Book review by
Lucinda Dyer, Common Sense Media
On the Horizon Book Poster Image
Haunting free-verse account of Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima.

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

Educational Value

Instead of a storyline populated with facts (how many Japanese planes attacked Pearl Harbor and which ships were destroyed or any of the preparations leading up to the bombing of Hiroshima), readers will learn about these two pivotal events in the history of World War II through the stories of young people and children whose lives and futures were forever changed.

Positive Messages

Honoring the past and the sacrifices of those who came before us can help us work toward a better and more peaceful future.

Positive Role Models & Representations

There are none of the expected heroes or heroines in this wartime story. Instead, there are young men from small towns who join the Navy or the Marines, making their families (and themselves) proud. Twelve men flying a plane that would drop a bomb more destructive than anyone could have ever imagined. And high school girls excited to have been given the responsibility of operating the trams running in Hiroshima.


While Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima were terrifying events that killed and maimed thousands of people, the author relates the horror of those days in a very few simply told and never graphic sentences. At Pearl Harbor, scorched men are pulled from the burning USS Arizona and sailors are charred by flaming oil. A young boy in Hiroshima is found dead still gripping his tricycle's handlebars and people are vaporized by the explosion.

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What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Lois Lowry's On the Horizon is both a memoir and a history told simply and briefly (only 80 pages) in free verse. She remembers a childhood living in Hawaii at the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and writes of the young men who died during that attack. And she writes of the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima, Japan; of the crew of the plane that would drop the bomb and the children who would perish. Her memories of living in Japan shortly after the end of World War II provide a haunting bridge between the two attacks. While both events were unspeakably violent, Lowry's poetry recounts the horror of those days (scorched men pulled from the burning USS Arizona, sailors charred by flaming oil, and a young boy in Hiroshima who dies gripping his tricycle's handlebars) in very few, never graphic sentences that are age appropriate. Lowry is a two- time Newberry Medal winner (Number the Stars and The Giver).


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What's the story?

As an adult, author Lois Lowry watches a long-forgotten home movie of herself playing as a child on Waikiki Beach in Hawaii. Passing in the background, ON THE HORIZON, she sees the USS Arizona. Carrying more than 1,200 men, it would be sunk on Dec. 7, 1941, during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, killing almost everyone onboard. On that day, brothers George and Jimmie Bromly from Tacoma, Washington, would both die on the Arizona. John Anderson would survive but his identical twin, Jake, would not. All 21 members of the ship's band ran to their battle stations, only to perish. Frank Cabiness survived and returns to the Arizona at age 86, when his ashes are placed in a gun turret so he can rest with his shipmates. On Aug. 6, 1945, the United States drops an atom bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, that kills 80,000 people that day, and thousands more will die from radiation sickness. The American plane that carries the bomb is named after the pilot's mother, Enola Gay. In a small town outside of Hiroshima, a boy named Koichi Seii feels the earth shudder. A 4-year-old boy in Hiroshima dies, still holding the handlebars of his red tricycle, and a little girl who loves to fold paper cranes will die from radiation poisoning. When Lowry is 11, she moves with her parents to Japan. She learns a bit of Japanese, including the word for friend, and wonders if it's wrong to try and make friends with a young boy who's playing in a schoolyard.


Is it any good?

Lowry's poetic recounting of two pivotal and tragic events in World War II is heartbreaking, haunting, and powerful in its simplicity. The vividly told stories of real young people and children in On the Horizon promises to captivate even readers reluctant to pick up a history book, much less one written in free verse.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how On the Horizon presents the terrible human cost of war. How is the way Lowry writes about Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima different from the way war is portrayed in movies or on TV?

  • What brings history alive for you? Studying the facts about a particular event or learning about the people who lived it?

  • Do you think it's possible for people who've fought on opposite sides of a war to ever become friends?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love free-verse novels and World War II history

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