12/14/17

Hula for the Home Front

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

School is finally back in session, almost two full months after the Pearl Harbor attacks. Nanea is looking forward to doing something normal, but class is held in a different room because of fire damage, and Donna isn't there. In her place is Dixie, a new student who just moved from Maui after her father was sent to work at an airfield on Oahu. Although Dixie doesn't mean to, she gets on Nanea's nerves. She's sitting in Donna's chair, being picked for class jobs that would normally be Nanea's, and making posters (to advertise buying war stamps) like she's the new class artist--Lily's unofficial title. Nanea tries to help Dixie feel welcome, but she's too irrationally angry at Dixie, who represents all the change that's happened since the war started. Nanea vents her frustrations to her grandmother while working her Saturday shift at her grandparents' store (one of her Christmas gifts was a store apron, because she was finally old enough to help). Her grandmother reminds Nanea that everyone has a story, and if she learns Dixie's, maybe she can get to know her and get along with her. At school on Monday, Nanea and Lily invite Dixie to sit with them. They learn that she's trying to be grateful to her aunt for letting her and her dad stay with her family despite the cramped quarters with her rambunctious cousins, and that her mother got an acting opportunity when Dixie was five,  moved to Hollywood, and Dixie hasn't seen her since. Nanea and Lily endeavor to help Dixie feel welcome, in school, around the neighborhood, and in their newly-formed Honolulu Helpers club, dedicated to the war effort.
   
Back home, Papa is around more, mostly working only his usual graveyard shift instead of multiple shifts. Davis continues volunteering, and mentions wanting to enlist when he turns 18 in June (his twenty-first birthday will be the day before D-Day). And when he invites a lieutenant to dinner, the military officer sees how Nanea's trained Mele to dance and brings up the topic of Dogs for Defense, a program through which people more or less enlist their dogs (one of Nanea's classmates recently volunteered his dog for the program). David and Mele, both in the military? The war is getting too close to home...and it was already nearly on her doorstep.

Although Nanea doesn't want her brother or dog in the military, she's happy to help the soldiers and sailors when she can. Her Honolulu Helpers club make sure Valentine cards for the young men so far from home, and puts on a party for St. Patrick's Day. It's there that she sees a solider she's met before at a USO event, nicknamed Tennessee. He mentions how fun it was to see Mele then, when the dog snuck in, and says he wishes Nanea had been able to bring him. That gives Nanea and her grandmother an idea: at the next USO event later that month, Nanea debuts Mele’s hula skills. The service members love it, and line up to pet Mele after the show, most of them missing their own dogs back home. Just after Nanea's birthday (starting with a treasure hunt and ending with a picnic on the beach), she gets a letter from Tennessee, who's shipping out. He thanks her for letting him see Mele, and mentions how much the dog boosted his spirits. Nanea is inspired to find a way to get Mele to see more service members and help them, too. After all, if her class won the war stamp drive, there's got to be a way do it.
 
Nanea gets her chance at David's birthday luau, which Lt. Gregory attends. He acknowledges that he is a strong supporter of Dogs for Defense, but the decision has to be Nanea's, not his. Plus, Mele has been wonderful entertaining people at USO events. When Nanea brings up her idea--that she could arrange times to bring Mele to the hospital but stay outside with him--Lt. Gregory agrees it sounds brilliant, and promises to ask about it.

The very next day at breakfast, just after news of victory at the Battle of Midway, David announces that he's enlisted and will ship out in three weeks. Mom and Papa are scared for him, but also proud, and Mary Lou tries to be brave. But Nanea is furious that her brother would put himself in harm'sway. A good talk and a good cry with her grandmothers calms her down. Three weeks later, Nanea and her family see David off, sailing to the mainland for boot camp in Mississippi. Nanea makes him  a lei to throw overboard.

Once the ship is out of sight, Nanea, Lily, and Dixie give Mele a good scrub, and then get dressed for a hula performance: Lt. Gregory has secured a spot in the hospital for them to show off the Hula Dog and let the wounded play with Mele. Nanea is grateful for the distraction.

Inside Nanea's World

After the Battle of Midway, the threat of attack was lessened in Hawaii, but martial law remained in effect. Hawaii's record-setting volunteer effort did too: the island terry raised more funds for war bonds (in part through war stamp programs) than any of the states. When the military lifted its ban on people of Japanese descent enlist, it hoped for at least 1,500 recruits. It got almost 10,000.

Misc

For "Ryan, the fifth blossom in my grandma lei."

Donna sends (and receives) several letters of the course of the book. One mentions that two friends at her new school age no longer there...because they'd been sent to a Japanese internment camp.

Lily's older brother Gene tries to enlist, but isn't allowed due to his Japanese heritage. He joins the Varsity Victory Volunteers, a real group of young college students who wanted to help any way they could. They built roads, hauled stones, and did other manual labor for the war effort.

Lily's father, a fisherman, has his boat confiscated by the government, effectively putting him out of work. Her mother is able to get a job through a neighbor.

David's birthday luau includes salmon. When I lived in Hawaii, it was just about impossible to find salmon that wasn't farm-raised, and even that was rare. I must have been looking in the wrong stores. Or the wrong decade.

At one point, Honolulu's Roosevelt High School is bombed. I used to live less than a mile from there; my oldest attended the elementary school across the street.

Speaking of Japanese bombs, Papa's family is in Oregon. Japan firebombed parts of the Pacific Northwest during Wold War II. Most of it was too damp for the boys to do much damage, but one landed near a picnicking family, killing them.

By the end of the book, Dixie and her father have been invited to stay with Donna's father in they home. Donna will be able to get more done without her little cousins keeping her up late and getting into her school things, and Donna's dad won't be so lonely (Nanea's family has him come to dinner every Thursday, but he still has to go home to an empty house).

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