Early Sunday Morning Discussion Guide
- Grades: 6–8
About this book
To the Discussion Leader
Surprise Attack on America. The Courage of Heroes Inspires All. Fears of Future Attacks Abound. Foreigners Jailed. Isolationists Refuse to Be Drawn Into Foreign Conflict.
These headlines could describe the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center in New York City and its aftermath as Americans dealt with tragedy and our response to the horrors of September 11th. The headlines also describe the "date which will live in infamy" — the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.
Early Sunday Morning: The Pearl Harbor Diary of Amber Willows, Hawaii, 1941 is Barry Denenberg's fourth book in the Dear America series. Twelve-year-old Amber tells the story of her family move to Hawaii and her first-person account of the Japanese attack. With a vantage point so close that with binoculars she could see inside the Japanese planes, Amber describes the incessant noise from the low flying foreign planes, the machine gun fire, the dull, booming explosions, and the chaos caused by the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. "By 9:30 A.M., it was over. Eighteen American ships were lost. Over 300 American military planes destroyed. Over 2,400 American lives were lost and 1,178 people were wounded."
The date which will live in infamy took place more than sixty years ago. But young readers will see contemporary parallels that make Amber's story as current as today's newspaper headlines.
"It's like we're moving to another planet," writes twelve-year-old Amber Billows when she learns that her family will be moving from Washington D.C. to Honolulu, Hawaii. It is October 1941, and Amber's father is relocating his family for the fourth time in Amber's life. Each time Amber has begun a new diary.
Amber and her family soon become acclimated to their new home. As her mom fixes up the house and becomes acquainted with the local merchants, Amber's dad enjoys golf and meets a nearby bookseller, Mr. Poole, who becomes a family friend. Amber's brother, Andy, joins the Boy Scouts and looks forward to taking a tour of Pearl Harbor, and Amber becomes best friends with a Japanese classmate Kame Arata. Kame suggests Amber join the Shakespeare Theater group at school, and the girls happily anticipate a dance to be held the evening of December 7th. Life seems like a dream.
Suddenly, however, "the dream was over, and the nightmare was about to begin." The Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, and Hawaii is thrown into chaos. Amber says, "My whole world was disintegrating right before my eyes." The American fleet is massively damaged; many service men are dead, wounded, or missing. Even civilians are victims of the attack. Mr. Poole dies when a stray shell hits his bookstore. The wounded are too numerous to be accommodated in the hospitals. Amber's mom, a nurse, goes to help, and Amber and Andy try to make themselves safe at home. Confusion reigns, with riots in the streets and stores. The military take over the government. Citizens are required to stay home and darken their homes. "We spend much of our time now in the kitchen or the bedroom because they're the only rooms that are blackened out." There's no more school. People begin building bomb shelters. Gas masks are issued to everyone, even infants. Worst of all, perhaps, is how everyone is suspicious of anyone who is Japanese. Kame's father is taken away. Amber tells of her friend, "Kame is ashamed. Ashamed that she is Japanese. Ashamed that she has the face of the enemy. She is worried about her father. And she is worried about what will happen to her. She said she is afraid to go anywhere."
Amber remains close to Kame, and the two families plan to celebrate Christmas together. But life will never be the same. When Amber' s father tells the family they are moving back to the mainland, Amber is relieved. With this entry, she completes her Hawaii diary, "It was like a bad dream was finally ending. Isn't it ironic? The shortest diary I ever kept, and the saddest."
Thinking About the Book
- Why did Amber and her family have to move to Hawaii? How does she feel about this move? Why?
- In her October 27th diary entry, Amber writes that she likes to have "...just one best friend I can depend on." Why does she feel this way? Do you agree?
- What are Amber's impressions of Hawaii before she moves there? Why does she think going there is "like moving to another planet?"
- Amber writes a good deal in her diary about how different her mother is from her father. What are some of the ways Mrs. Billows differs from her husband?
- What is an isolationist? Are Amber's parents isolationists?
- Why do Lieutenant Lockhart and Mr. Poole argue at Thanksgiving dinner in the Billow's home?
- Pick one of the following expressions and tell what you think it means: "Experience is a costly school. But a fool will learn in no other. (p. 74) "Behold the frog, who when he opens his mouth displays his whole insides." (p. 76) "There is no prosperity in a family where the hen crows." (p. 63)
- Why do the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor?
- How do both Amber and Kame's lives change dramatically after the bombing of Pearl Harbor?
- President Franklin D. Roosevelt called December 7, 1941, "a date which will live in infamy." What you think he meant by these words?
- For the long plane trip to Hawaii, Amber brings along several books to read: two Nancy Drew mysteries, The Little House in the Big Woods, and The Yearling. Have you read any of these books? If you were taking a long trip what books would you take along to read and why?
- Imagine you're a reporter like Amber's dad, and write a column for your newspaper back on the mainland describing the events at Pearl Harbor December 7, 1941.
- Research one of the following and share your findings with your group:
- victory garden
- Amber's father enjoyed twice baked potatoes, and her mother showed Kame's aunt how to make them. Try making twice baked potatoes and see if you like them, too.
- After Pearl Harbor was bombed, Kame and her family, along with many Americans of Japanese ancestry, were sent to internment camps on the mainland. Find out about internment camps. Read The Journal of Ben Uchida, Citizen 13559, Mirror Lake Internment Camp, a My Name Is America book also written by Barry Denenberg, and see what that experience was like for a young Japanese-American boy.
- Read My Secret War: The World War II Diary of Madeline Beck, Long Island, New York, 1941. How is Maddie's story different from Amber's, and how are they alike?
Discussion Guide written by Richard F. Abrahamson, Ph.D., Professor of Literature for Children and Young Adults, University of Houston, Houston, Texas, and Eleanore S. Tyson, Ed.D., Clinical Associate Professor, University of Houston, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Houston, Texas.