Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Friday, November 9, 2018

A Reconciliation

When remembering the United States and World War II most people think of the battles and the losses in the European, the Mediterranean, African and Middle East and Pacific theaters.  Rarely does a group of islands off the southern coast of Alaska become a part of the discussion.  There were Japanese and American forces located in several places in the Aleutian Islands.  (One of the many American soldiers stationed there for more than a year was my dad.)  It was a strategy to place troops there to prevent an invasion from this sector.  After the events at Pearl Harbor on Hawaii on December 7, 1941 this was a concern for both countries.

One of the little-known stories originating from this and other areas north and west of the United States takes place in Oregon.  Thirty Minutes Over Oregon: A Japanese Pilot's World War II Story (Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, October 9, 2018) written by Marc Tyler Nobleman with illustrations by Melissa Iwai chronicles specific events in 1942.  Decades later the tale continued.

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, an American Naval Base on Hawaii.  The surprise attack killed thousands of soldiers and brought America into World War II.

On September 9, 1942, a Japanese pilot, Nobuo Fujita and his navigator boarded an airplane on the deck of a submarine.  Soon they would be propelled into the air toward Oregon.  Nobuo carried a 400-year-old samurai sword for luck.  Bombs were placed under the wings of the plane.  The plan was to ignite the woods causing an enormous fire.

The bombs were dropped but the outcome was not as planned.  Brookings' (Oregon) residents were not overly concerned.  Neither was the American military.  Nobuo Fujita did it again . . . at night.

The Japanese believed both missions were a success.  The Americans never said a word about the second bombing.  Nobuo Fujita finally returned home and started a business, never speaking of either flight.  No one said anything until 1962.

In this year the Brookings' Jaycees needed to increase tourism in their town.  They decided to invite Nobuo Fujita to their annual Memorial Day celebration. Did this proposal cause controversy?  Yes.  Did it find support in high places?  Yes.  Nobuo Fujita accepted their invitation and he brought his 400-year-old sword.  The visit was an overwhelming success.  A promise was made when Nobuo and his wife left Oregon for Japan.

That promise was fulfilled.  For the more than thirty years people, Japanese and Americans, made a choice, forgiveness.  This is a remarkable story . . . a story to be remembered, forever.

Every detail of this narrative from 1942 to 1998 is carefully written by Marc Tyler Nobleman.  Specific facts and dialogue are included suggesting painstaking research.  This information makes the story of Nobuo Fujita exceedingly personal for readers.  As each page is turned it's like stepping back in time and shadowing this man.  Here are two passages.

Only that time, for greater stealth, he went by night.
To protect coastal communities from becoming easy
targets, the US military routinely ordered blackouts
during the war.  But the lighthouse at Cape Blanco
remained lit, and guided to shore by its beam,
Nobuo headed to a wooded area north of Brookings
and dropped two more bombs on Oregon.

On his return, Nobuo could not locate the
sub.  Nearly out of fuel, he resigned himself
to dying with honor by winging back and
crashing into the lighthouse.  "The mission
comes first, the sub next," he said to his
navigator. "We come last."

Upon opening the matching dust jacket and book case, readers are given a view from 1942 on the right (front) and 1992 on the left (back).  As Nobuo Fujita and his navigator are leaving the Oregon woods behind, we get a glimpse of the smoke in the forest in the upper left-hand corner.  It is a bird's eye view.  On the back, a smaller image surrounded in the dark green of the woodlands is a close-up of two hands cupped around a redwood sapling.  This illustration is framed in ribbons with informative text. 

The opening and closing endpapers are a dark olive green.  Nobuo's plane is soaring across the title page.  Smaller planes move from the verso to the first page over torn and burning newspaper headlines along the bottom after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and Tokyo in the Doolittle Raid. 

Rendered in watercolor and mixed media the pictures span double pages, full pages and, to accentuate pacing, smaller insets are placed on a single page.  Artist Melissa Iwai's depiction of each scene maintains historical accuracy in clothing, the aircraft, the submarine, and the setting of Brookings and Nobuo's home in Tokyo.  Emotion is conveyed in the body postures, facial expressions, perspective and in her color selections.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when Nobuo is flying at night to Oregon for the second drop of the bombs.  The perspective is as if we are seated with Nobuo.  We can see the airplane instruments, Nobuo and his sword behind him strapped to his seat.  Down in front is the jut of land with the lighthouse, its beams cutting into the night with light.  You can almost hear the sound of the engine and feel the tension in the cockpit.

This book, Thirty Minutes Over Oregon: A Japanese Pilot's World War II Story written by Marc Tyler Nobleman with illustrations by Melissa Iwai, is a valued part of World War II history and its lasting effects.  It showcases the huge capacity of people when given the opportunity to be their best.  You will be moved by this title.  You will not forget this story.  An author's note and selected sources are included on the final page.  I highly recommend this for your personal and professional book collections.

To learn more about Marc Tyler Nobleman and Melissa Iwai and their other work, please visit their respective websites by following the links attached to their names.  Both Marc and Melissa have accounts on Twitter.  They also have accounts on Instagram here and here.  The cover is revealed at A Fuse #8 Production by Elizabeth Bird.  You will enjoy reading this article in the Curry Coastal Pilot about Melissa's visit to Brookings to do research for her artwork.

Be sure to take a few moments to view the selections of other participants in the 2018 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge at Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher.


  1. Thank you so much for this wonderful and thoughtful review of our book, Margie!

    1. You are very welcome, Melissa. I have gone back and read it several times. It's one of those books I believe should be a part of all US history classes regardless of the age of the students.