Thursday, April 23, 2020

Together in Time: On the Horizon by Lois Lowry

Back in 1980, author Lois Lowry's father showed her some family silent movies of her at age two playing on the beach in Hawaii with her grandmother. Intrigued, Lowry had the film transferred to a video tape, and one day she and some friends watched them together.

I played once more on the beach at Waikiki.

"Wait," my friend John said suddenly. "Pause it and go back to the beach scene! We watched the beach scene again.

"Look on the horizon." John said. "That's the Arizona!"

We were no longer watching a little girl playing with a sand shovel in 1940. The battleship Arizona carried 1200 men. Almost all of them would soon be dead.

Stunned with that moment frozen in time, when she was connected with the sinking of that ship and the day that began World War II, author Lowry started to research the people who survived and those whose lives were lost on December 7, when "Remember the Arizona," had become the watchword of the nation.

Lowry learned that many of the sailors were young, seventeen and eighteen years old, on their first cruise. Thirty-seven sets of brothers were shipmates. Some brothers survived, and some pairs died together. One brother managed to save his brother, and one tried and failed and had his ashes buried on the ship, still visible underwater in Pearl Harbor, where his brother lay.
At eighty-six, he returned to his ship.
Divers took his ashes down,
and placed them in the fourth gun turret,
where he would rest with his shipmates.

Author Lowry and her family returned to Japan for a few years when she was older, where she heard the stories of people on the day the first atomic bomb fell on Japan. One little boy was buried with his beloved little red trike, which Lowry later saw when she visited the museum in Hiroshima. In Japan she had a much-loved green bicycle, and she once stopped to watch a playground full of Japanese children where one boy came to the fence and stared long at her pale hair and eyes.

His name then was Koichi Seii, and many years later, as the American Caldecott Award-winning author-illustrator, Alan Say, he met Lois at a conference, and chatting about her days in Tokyo, the two discovered that they were those two children who stared at each other through that fence.
So many years went by
that he was gray-haired; so was I.

I'd lived in his country, then.
And now he'd moved to mine, so when
we met (his name was Allen now)
we mused and pondered how
from our horizons we had viewed
a war begin, a war conclude.

We were young. We were alike.
A boy in a schoolyard. A girl on a bike.

Newbery Award-winning author Lois Lowry's memoir, On the Horizon (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020), comes at a good time in our history for children forced to live through another historic time. Quarantined with family, they have seen their worlds shrink even as they yet live through another momentous world event which they unknowingly share with children far away.

Lowry, whose notable Newbery Award books are Number the Stars and The Giver (1) (Giver Quartet), uses varied poetic forms, from quatrains to haiku, to tell a personal story that is entwined with a time that challenged individuals and nations, a time remembered that yet has many lessons for young readers today. We are in time as a fish is in water, all threatened, all hopeful, often all as unaware of what is on the horizon as little Lois on that long-ago beach, as history rolls on all around us, and Lowry's thoughtful words help convey that truth to those who are children now. Says School Library Journal,"This series of beautiful, moving, and sometimes horrifying poems gives a voice to the young men on the USS Arizona and offers an equally moving tribute to the survivors of Hiroshima. The author shares her hope for the future and stresses the interconnectedness of humanity."

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