Friday, April 10, 2020

On the Horizon by Lois Lowry, illustrated by Kenard Pak

On the Horizon by Lois Lowry,
illustrated by Kenard Pak
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020, 80 pages

Imagine looking at old family home movies and discovering something in the background that suddenly jolts memory and reflection. Well, that is exactly what happened to Lois Lowry when she had some of her family's old home movies restored and realized as a young child playing on Waikiki beach with her grandmother in 1940, her father's camera had also captured the USS Arizona in the distance heading to its berth in Pearl Harbor:
She Was There
We never saw the ship.
But she was there.

She was moving slowly
on the horizon, shrouded in the mist
that separated skies from seas
while we laughed, unknowing, in the breeze.

She carried more than 
twelve hundred men
on deck, or working down below.
We didn't look up. We didn't know.

It is only as an adult, Lowry says in her Author's Note, while showing the restored films to friends, that the USS Arizona is finally seen. As you probably already know, it sank when Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941, and most of the sailors onboard were killed - among them, twin brothers, members of the ship's band, two brothers, one a survivor, one not but reunited years later in death.

From 1941, Lowry jumps to August 6, 1945 and the bombing of Hiroshima, and again highlighting individuals who were there - among them, a young boy named Koichi Seii, who would later become known as Allen Say, a child pulled from the rubble and reunited with his father, teenage girls running the trams, and a little boy on a red tricycle.
The cloud appeared over the distant hill,
blossoming like strange new flowers in spring, 
opening, growing. But the world was still.
When the cloud appeared over the distant hill,
silence has fallen. There were no sounds until 
rain came. Not true rain, but black drops falling
from the cloud that appeared over a distant hill,
blossoming like strange new flowers in spring.

On the Horizon is written in three parts- the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the bombing of Hiroshima, and the Lowry family's life in post-war Japan - and uses a variety of poetic forms. One of the things that she has accomplished is to show the randomness of war - especially who lives and who dies (a randomness we are witnessing again as the Coronavirus chooses its victims).  It is perhaps one of the most affecting books I have read about WWII, and I found often myself tearing up as I read. I believe it is because of the way Lowry has brought the distant near. In this slender book of poems, she shows us that sometimes history can feel like one is looking at something far away on a misty horizon, but by giving face and voice to those who were there she brings it to the forefront, and history becomes closer, people become individual human beings. This is a book of poems I believe I will be returning to again and again.

Kenard Pak's black and while pencil and digital illustrations are a perfect compliment to each one of the poems.

You can find a useful Teacher's Guide HERE

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was a EARC gratefully received from NetGalley

This is one of my favorite poems from On the Horizon:

The hospital ships had names that spoke of need:

The carried the wounded and ill.

That morning, Solace was moored near the Arizona.
She sent her launches and stretchers across.
The harbor has a film of burning oil.
Scorched men were pulled one by one from the flames
and taken to Solace.


  1. I love that you've already read this new book, Alex. It's on my list and with the illustrations, too, sounds so wonderful and poignant. Thanks for a thoughtful review.

  2. This sounds like a wonderful book. I will be checking it out. Thanks for telling me about it. Stay well.