Aleutian Sparrow

Aleutian Sparrow

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In June 1942, seven months after attacking Pearl Harbor, the Japanese navy invaded Alaska's Aleutian Islands. For nine thousand years the Aleut people had lived and thrived on these treeless, windswept lands. Within days of the first attack, the entire native population living west of Unimak Island was gathered up and evacuated to relocation centers in the dense forests of Alaska's Southeast.
With resilience, compassion, and humor, the Aleuts responded to the sorrows of upheaval and dislocation. This is the story of Vera, a young Aleut caught up in the turmoil of war. It chronicles her struggles to survive and to keep community and heritage intact despite harsh conditions in an alien environment.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780807220146
Publisher: Random House Audio Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/28/2004
Age Range: 9 - 12 Years

About the Author

Newbery winner Karen Hesse re-creates Cook's momentous voyage through the eyes of this remarkable boy, creating a fictional journal filled with fierce hurricanes, warring natives, and disease, as Nick discovers new lands, incredible creatures, and lifelong friends.

Read an Excerpt


May-June 1942

Summer in Kashega

The old ones, Alexie and Fekla, they say,

"Go, Vera. Go to Kashega. See your mother, your friends.

It is only for the summer," they say.

"Go. Nothing will happen to us."

So I go, eager to visit Kashega,

Riding the mail boat out of Unalaska Bay as Alexie and Fekla Golodoff, and our snug house in Unalaska village, and my photographs and books, my little skiff,

And my twelve handsome chickens,

All fade into the fog.

What War?

I arrive in Kashega. My friends Pari and Alfred squabble over me like a pair of seagulls fighting for a crab claw. My mother greets me like a stranger, with an Americanchin hug, then touches my hair.

There is no sign of trouble here. We have crayon days, big and happy.

The windows sparkle at night.

I had forgotten how a lighted window shines without blackout paper.

The Japanese

They weren't always our enemy. There was a time when the Japanese sailed in and their crews played baseball with our Aleut teams.

But we saw what they were up to. We warned our government about Japanese who charted our shorelines, who studied our harbors from their fishing boats.

Our Japanese visitors expected always an amiable Aleut welcome. But when the hand of friendship was withdrawn,

They took their measurements and made their calculations anyway.

Life in Kashega

In the beginning, when I first moved away to Unalaska village to live with Alexie and Fekla Golodoff, I longed for Kashega. Kashega winter, when the men trap the blue fox. Kashega summer, when they hire themselves out to take the fur seal off the Pribilofs. All the Kashega year, with the boats bringing home sweet duck and fat sea lion.

Kashega autumns splash with salmon swimming into traps to become a winter of dry fish.

Sometimes sheep to shear, sometimes driftwood on the

beach, sometimes an odd job.

And always Solomon's little store, lit by kerosene, where the men drink salmonberry wine and solve the problems of our people.

Solomon's Store

Zachary Solomon ran the Kashega store for ten years maybe.

But when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Zachary Solomon went to war.

Always a white man has run the store.

But my mother took over when Zachary Solomon left.

And she likes it.

Hot-Spring Memory

"Remember," I ask my mother, "how we visited Akutan

And walked the path up into the hills, passing the boiling springs, climbing higher, to where blossoms framed the steaming pools like

masses of perfumed hair?

"Remember," I ask my mother, "how we waded in? Could we go again?"

"Maybe," she says, never looking up, lost in the pages of Life.

My Mother

My mother never talks about when she was young and she did not listen to the old ways to keep a man safe. How she closed her ears to the Aleut tales.

She never talks about how she met and fell in love with and married a white man, how she sent him to sea without a seal-gut coat. She never talks about the storms driving in and piling up the waves. How time after time she watched from the headlands, fighting the winds, waiting for my father's boat to come in.

She never says how I waited beside her, my fist crushing the seam of her skirt.

And she never, never talks about the day my father did not come home.

Even the Storms

Pari and I sit in the new spring grass watching a storm approach from the distance. "Have you missed Kashega?" she asks.

I nod, remembering the welcoming kitchens, the Christmas star of wood and glass,

The way our laughter crackled on winter nights like sugar frosting, the smell of our skin after a day gathering wildflowers in the summer hills.

Pari pulls me up with both hands, and we race to her house down the mountain path, wind walls rising around us, rain filling the gray cheeks of the sky.

White Orchid

"Last summer," I remind Pari as we dry off in her kitchen. "Last summer you led the way, carrying the fish basket to the far side of the lake. And we gathered bulbs of white orchid."

Pari says, "And Alfred's mother boiled the bulbs for us, and we rolled them in pools of warm fat and ate them with our fingers."

We lick our lips, remembering, and Pari combs out her hair and mine, and we promise to dig orchids again this August

When I get back with Alfred's family from fish camp.


She is more like my mother than I will ever be.

She likes all things cheechako.

She is only part Aleut, as I am, her father, like mine, a white man.

But while I like to sit with Alfred's family listening to the old stories, Pari prefers the store and my mother and the pages of the Sears and Roebuck catalog.

My Work

I was six when I stood outside Alfred's grandfather's house, where the old ways steep like tea in a cup of hours. Alfred's mother opened the door and gazed down at my small fists hanging by my sides. She understood my wanting. She said I could live in her house sometimes if I needed.

Eva, her daughter, dressed and fed me. She carried me on her hip like a big doll. Alfred, her son, taught me to fish and to row a skiff. The family taught me their stories.

I grew up seeing my mother every day, but spending most of my time in Alfred's house.

"Your work, Vera," Alfred's grandfather told me before I moved to Unalaska village, "your work is to know the ways of our people." I am good at my work.

Why I Left Kashega in the First Place

Not enough children to keep the school open.

And after my father died, I never listened to my mother.

Alexie and Fekla Golodoff, the old man and woman from Unalaska village,

They lived near a school. And they needed a girl

to help them.

Unalaska Village

I tell Pari, "We have a hospital, a post office, restaurants, a movie theater, a store so big you could maybe fit half of Kashega inside it." Pari looks away, jealous.

"The men work as fishermen," I say, "in construction, as longshoremen and hunters. We have a deputy marshal and a commissioner.

We have a church, a beautiful church, which the Golodoffs care for like a blessed child."

"And how do they care for you?" Pari asks.

Life in Unalaska Village

"All our childrens are dead," the Golodoffs told me. "We are old people. We need someone to look out for us."

I clean for them. I carry and chop and fetch for them. I weave fresh grass rugs for them.

And they teach me to make things their way, like the seal-gut pants and the seal-gut coats, and they tell me stories every night. We are rich enough and we are happy enough

And I am away just for a little while to visit my mother and my friends in Kashega when the Japanese change everything.

Text copyright © 2003 by Karen Hesse

Reading Group Guide


By Karen Hesse
In June 1942, Japanese forces attacked the Aleutian Islands. Within days of the attack, the U.S. military removed the native people of these islands to relocation centers in Alaska's southwest, supposedly for their own protection. Conditions in these camps were deplorable. The Aleuts were held for approximately three years, and many of them died. In a series of short, unrhymed verses, Hesse tells this moving story through the eyes and voice of Vera, a girl of Aleut and Caucasian heritage.
Aleuts; Alaska; World War II; Internment/relocation camps; Historical fiction
- Describe Vera's relationship with her mother.
- Read page 103. Why does Vera think music would have helped them in the camp? Do you agree that music holds this power?
- Why is the book named Aleutian Sparrow? See page 93 for help.
- What were the effects on the people and the environment of the relocation in both areas, the islands and mainland?
- If you were forced from your home, what treasured possessions would you take with you? Why?
- In the author's note on page 155, Hesse writes: "The damage done in those three years to the Aleut culture is incalculable." Explain how the culture, not just people and possessions, was damaged.
- What constituted the ecosystem in the area during the time of this story? How is it the same or different today?
- Study Hesse's use of free verse poetry and identify some of her excellent examples of figurative language (similes, metaphors, personification, etc.). Write your own poem based on her free verse model, being sure to include figurative language.
- On page 88, Pari's mother plans to write letters asking for help. Write your own letter, from the point of view of someone at the camp, persuading the government to help correct the unbearable conditions of the camp.
Please visit for more information about the awards and to see curriculum guides for other master list titles.
This reading group guide is for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.
Prepared by Amy Brownlee
© William Allen White Children's Book Award

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Aleutian Sparrow 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
cshupp on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I just read this book and wow! Hesse manages to fit so much pain into so little writing. The prose style was unexpected and she puts her own spin on it. I had no idea this happened during WWII and now I find myself wanting to research it. Such a powerful story.
Samanthasrai on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Review of Aleutian Sparrow, by Karen HesseThis is a beautiful, delicate book dealing with the invasion of Alaska¿s Aleutian Islands by the Japanese. Central character Vera moves through the pages like a ghost, leaving touches of humour, sorrow, confusion, resilience and bittersweet memory. The verses are clear with many evocative descriptions. Some are truly stunning in their simple, beautiful observations that connect the Aleutian people with their environment. The style and subject of this children¿s book is quite mature, and yet Hesse retains an innocent and engaging tone. A wonderful read.
srssrs on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What attracted me to the "Aleutian Sparrow" initially was the graphic design on the chapter pages. Beyond that the concise, light looking text attracted my literature eye. I hadn't seen a book designed like this before, or at least a book that was for someone older than 8 years of age. The "Aleutian Sparrow" is un-rhymed verse. Each page is really a separate poem highly one aspect of the Japanese invasion of the Aleutians during WW2 and the relocation of Aleuts. It is fiction, but is written in first person. This gives the book an appearance of being non-fiction. I think using first person narrator makes the book easier to read. Finally, I think Karen Hesse has written a text that could easily differentiate a WW2 literature unit for below grade level readers. This book is not easy, but the way it was written and designed, makes it more readable for struggling readers and under-motivated readers.
bestwhensimple on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Karen Hesse is a genius. Out of the Dust was tragic and hopeful, sad and beautiful. Aleutian Sparrow is no exception. Set in the Aleutian Islands (off the coast of mainland Alaska) during World War II, this book is the story of Vera, a half-Aleutian and half-Caucasian girl, who is forced to move from her home into internment camps. We follow the journey of Vera and her neighbors from home to camp and back.Artfully written in short free-verse poems similar to Out of the Dust, Aleutian Sparrow is full of bursts of events and emotions. We learn about Vera's father dying at sea, the deforestation of the islands by western interests, and the better conditions of German prisoners of war nearby. The power of Hesse's writing is in her brevity. She brings up topics as heavy as the cruelty of war, the dehumanization of interned Americans, and rebuilding a community. This book is suitable for anyone who would like to learn something new about US involvement in internment camps, such as the one in Farewell to Manzanar. I recommend it for the discussion that it will prompt about ethics and community afterwards.
HMP11 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A beautifully written story told from the eyes of a native Aleutian teen. Adding yet another layer to the horrors of war is the little known fact about the travesties that haunted and scarred the small chain of islands off Alaska's coast called the Aleutians. In 1942, the Aleutian Islands were attacked by Japan. Vera and her family are forced to move to from their land, where they made seal-gut pants, could capture cod with their hands and gather grass for fires and medicine to a dirty, inhospitable camp. In the camp they wait for three long years through death, disease and persecution for the US Government to let them return to the home that bombs and US soldiers have destroyed. I enjoyed the historical relation to the story and appreciated that Hesse told the story in such a beautiful emotive way. I felt the pain and longing of Vera through the poetic language.
pinkargyle on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. I thought it was well written and touching, and brought a page in history, that I knew nothing about, to life. One of my favorite poems from the book is on page 59. I like it so much because it opens up so many questions about preserving history, identity, colonialism, and respecting one¿s ancestors: While The Little Ones Kicked The CanAlfred's grandfather says, "Remember, we were once unparalleled hunters, men of the sea. We were the elders of the world. We had our own language, our fierce victories, our tribal pride. The Russians ended that. "We went from ten thousand to eight hundred. Our grandparents preished. Our parents perished. And that was before the Americans came. How many times can a people lose their wayBefore they are lost forever?"A lyrical book that also packs a lot of information into few words, Aleutian Sparrow is a wonderful read that would be a perfect complement to a unit on WWII.
MerryMary on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
As she has done with other volumes, Ms Hesse has managed to tell a story full of longing and pain in the spare and carefully-chosen words of free verse. The native Aleutians were evacuated from their historic homes when the Japanese invade the islands during World War II. The thread that winds through all the pages is one of longing for the islands of home, and the pain of a heritage lost. Love, however, endures.
joririchardson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is amazing.Bringing to light a little-known aspect of World War II, Karen Hesse has created a powerful, sad story. Like many of her books, it is written in a sort of prose or poetry fashion, which seems perfect for the story.This book made me cry. Vivid, realistic, and very powerful.An amazing book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really liked this book and would recommend it to readers of all ages. It tells the story of ww2 when the natives of the Aleutian islands were moved from their homes by the American government. I think this book is like a double-edged wammy of greatness, because it has two components that I really appreciated; firstly, it's somewhat of a long poem, describing the beauty of the Alutian islands with metaphor. Secondly, the problem faced by the main charactervis true history. I only wish it didn't end so abruptly. Other than that it was great.