Hesse, Karen. 2003. ALEUTIAN SPARROW. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0689861893
2. Plot Summary:
In her historical account of the relocation of the Aleut people, Karen Hesse tells the story of Vera, an Aleutian Islander, who must move from her home with her family during World War II. Vera describes her journey of being placed in the internment camps designed to protect the people from the invading Japanese through a series of diary-like entries.
3. Critical Analysis:
Newbery Award winning author, Karen Hesse, tells the tale of Vera, an Aleut native, along with the rest of her people, displaced to an internment camp during World War II. Through unrhymed verse Hesse paints a poignant picture of Vera’s journey. Told from Vera’s point of view, the reader gains insight to the harshness and injustice faced by the Aleuts at the hands of the United States Government. “We are citizens of the United States, taken from our homes. / We did nothing wrong, and yet we get little to eat and / no doctoring, and our toilet is an open trough washing into the creek.” Vera’s eternal hope to return to her native land and customs drives the story. Through reflection, tribal storytelling, and morale boosting activities Vera and the Aleuts are able to endure and overcome their hardships. The reader can feel their strength and pain as they celebrate Christmas with minimal supplies; sickness and death an everyday occurrence. “Someone from Ketchikan donated a worn pair of lace / curtains. / We washed them, cut them to shape, / And used starch to form them / Into angel wings for the children.” Hesse uses symbolism of the wings to signify the hope for freedom of their internment, salvation and rebirth. Her use of imagery adds beautiful details to the story. “My spirit rises with the sun, which parts the fingers of trees / And slides its light through to the forest floor.”
This is a timeless story of oppression and the strength of the human spirit to overcome. Children will enjoy Vera’s humor and wit in everyday situations. When told to make glue from fish eyes, Vera decides it is worth it to buy glue from the store instead. She also suggests that a construction project might go more quickly with Alexie not helping. Like the title Aleutian Sparrow, Vera continues to sing her song of hope and rise above the injustice of her situation and returns to her nest.
4. Review Excerpts:
Starred in KIRKUS. “With a whisper-soft touch, Hesse's clear, resonant verses and delicate imagery will break hearts.”
Reviewed in BOOKLIST. “As Vera talks about her life in the camps, she also weaves in her people's past history and culture, ensuring that readers will want to know more.”
Reviewed in HORNBOOK. “Some of the poems are quite graceful, conveying much in just a few lines, but in general, the format doesn't serve the author well.”
Other books by Karen Hesse:
OUT OF THE DUST. ISBN 0590360809
STOWAWAY. ISBN 0689839898
WITNESS. ISBN 0439271991
Mansell, Donald E. 2003. UNDER THE SHADOW OF THE RISING SUN. ISBN 0816319766
*Compare Vera’s story with the missionary family in Donald Mansell’s book. How was life similar and different in each situation?
*Read other novels by Karen Hesse. What do they have in common? Why do you think she writes about people and their struggles to overcome prejudice?