Growing up with Aloha

Published 2017, author Kirby Larson, illustrators David Roth and Julie Kolesova

Nearly-ten-year-old Alice Nanea Mitchell lives in Honolulu with her older siblings, fifteen-year-old Mary Lou and seventeen-year-old David, and their parents Mom and Papa. Like the children, Mom I was born and raised on the island of Oahu. She's Hawaiian. Papa is of European descent and originally from Beaverton, OR. Nanea loves living at such a crossroads of cultures, fully embracing all th influences that have come to the Hawaiian islands.

One day in November, Nanea and her two best friends Lily and Donna notice a contest: complete four tasks by December 15 to be entered to win a new bike. The tasks are turn tragedy into triumph, make a difference in the community, do a good deed for a stranger, and show appreciation for family. Nanea wants to win--not only would she love the bike, winning it by helping people would show her family she's growing up, despite being the youngest. Throughout November, she finishes the third and fourth tasks, but learns she needs to plan a better so she's not going one step forward and two steps back, like when she was working on something to help her dad not miss his family in Oregon...but forgot to feed her dog Mele, and Mele ate the Thanksgiving turkey.

Soon it's December. Of 1941. Sunday, December 7--a day that will live in infamy.

Nanea had gotten up early to make her family a special breakfast, to make up for the turkey. But any reader who knows this part of history knows her family won't be noticing the food. She hears a plane, and is confused to see that it's flying so low she can make out the Japanese flag on the tail. Her family wakes up, and Papa switches on the radio. There's a call for all military personnel to report to their
posts. Papa's not military, but he is a civilian contractor so he rushes to the shipyard. As he leaves, the radio announcer confirms that this is no drill. This is an enemy attack.

David leaves too, for the VFW hall, as his Boy Scout leader had instructed the scouts to do in emergencies. Nanea, Mom, and Mary Lou listen tensely to the radio, until it cuts out. Static on every channel. Gradually, they learn what's happening, as the attack ends and people come out of their homes (although David doesn't come back until the next night, and only to sleep, since the hospital needs help; and Papa hasn't been heard from at all). Japanese war planes bombed Pearl Harbor, a military target due to the battleships docked there, and also attacked some of the surrounding area. Nanea's school is partially destroyed, and neighbors have bullet holes in their homes and cars. (This was something that radially struck me when I visited Pearl Harbor in 2015: of the 2,403 casualties, 49 were civilians. Two were infants.)

As if the terror of the attacks and the dread of future aggression wasn't enough, many Japanese people are suddenly detained on suspicion of helping coordinate the attack, including Lily's father. Martial law is declared, and everyone of Japanese descent gets the short end of the stick: earlier curfew, no radios, arrests of adult men--regardless of whether they're US citizens, like Lily's father. Lily tries to carry on as normal, and helps Nanea look for Mele, who has been missing since the attack. But she's hurting at the injustice.

As the week goes on, Nanea keeps busy making food for the aid workers, worrying about Lily, andlooking for Mele. Finally, after a week, Papa comes home (I was wondering if he'd be a casualty, but I guess that would have been potentially disrespectful to the actual people who died, and too dark--although he does allude to the men trapped on the sunken Arizona who died). He's only home for some sleep though, and soon has to head back out. Mary Lou and Mom are busy volunteering, so it falls to Nanea to help her grandparents inventory their store--a grown up thing to do, but this isn't the way Nanea wanted to show she was mature. It does give her an idea of how to show Lily that she cares, though. She'll make cookies Lily can bring to her father. On the way to Lily's, Nanea is distracted by Mele! He's trapped in a hole, and by the time she gets him out, fed, and clean, she's two hours late to see Lily. Lily is angry, and Nanea leaves without explaining. But a neighbor helps Nanea see that it's best to fix a problem right away, and when Nanea returns to Lily's with Mele, Loy understands. Donna shows up with food too, and Lily says that she appreciates knowing her friends care about her.

On Christmas Day, there are few decorations, due to the blackout rules and the shipment of Christmas trees being sent back to the mainland. Nanea has the bright idea to paint thumbtacks and decorate them with a lei to make a little tree. Her father and brother are able to join the celebration as well. A week later, Nanea and Mary Lou dance in a hula recital for the USO. Mele manages to sneak out and follow Nanea, but her embarrassment quickly fades when she sees how happy the soldiers and sailors are to do something so normal as petting a dog.

A few days later, Donna has bad news: all nonessential civilians are being sent away, back to San Francisco. It will be easier to keep the permanent residents, military personnel, and contractors safe and fed with fewer people on the islands. Nanea tries to think of ways to show that Donna is essential, even giving up the first day Papa has off in three weeks to work with Donna and some other friends to help with childcare during a Frist Aid training. Nanea comes up with other ways to hav Donna help, including a bottle drive (they can be  sterilized to hold donated blood) that gets a newspaper write up. But it's not enough, and Donna and her mother are sent back to San Francisco in late January. As her boat departs, Donna tosses the lei Nanea and Lily made her into the ocean. Legend says that if your lei makes it back to the island's shore, you will too.

Inside Nanea's World

The historical section talks about the restrictive curfew enforced in Hawaii following the Pearl Harbor attacks, and he life changed for the islands' residents. But it didn't charge their willingness to help in whatever way they could.


Dedicated to "Clio, my mo'opuna wahine, with much aloha."

Nanea and Mary Lou practice a song with kala'au and pu'ili sticks--my oldest went to school in Honolulu when we lived there, and she used the same sticks at the end of the school year recital.

Nanea's siblings have Hawaiian middle names like she does (Noelani and Kekoa). Their grandmother tends to use the, especially during hula lessons. Speaking of hula lessons, David works at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, which has free hula lessons on a weekly basis. My older two kids took them sometimes (the third wasn't born then).

Matson, the shipping company that was supposed to bring Christmas trees, is still around. We used to get our things to and from Hawaii when we moved there temporarily.

Nanea's mom commments that she's glad David is too young to enlist. However, he's 17, and the war won't be over until 1945. And there's a draft coming.

Possible connections to Molly, the original World War II representative: Donna and Linda share some letters, Lily is what Susan means (it's for the Hebrew name Susana), and Mary Lou and her friends knit socks for the military personnel.

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