The Power of Apology: Teaching with Orbis Pictus Honor Book Thirty Minutes Over Oregon
Written by Marc Tyler Nobleman
Illustrated by Melissa Iwai
Published by Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018
A rumination on apology and reconciliation, this beautiful picture book brings to life events spanning the 20th century in the United States and Japan. In the early morning hours of September 9, 1942, just nine months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Japanese fighter pilot Nobuo Fujita was stealthily catapulted from a submarine fifteen miles off the Oregon coast to drop bombs in the forest outside of the town of Brookings. Twenty days later, he did it again. The catch? None of the bombs detonated effectively, either failing to go off or sparking and burning out due to the damp Northwest. Residents found evidence of the bombs, including some charred earth and metal fragments etched with Japanese words. Nubuo managed to enter and leave U.S. airspace undetected, and after the war, went home to a Tokyo suburb to open a hardware store. But in 1962, town leaders in Brookings decided, not without controversy, to track down and invite the mystery pilot for their annual Memorial Day Parade. Nubuo agreed to come. His goal? To apologize to the American people or commit ritual suicide if the apology was refused. Greeted with warmth and the spirit of reconciliation, Nobuo and his family maintained a relationship with Brookings for decades, supporting travel exchanges and book purchases, and donating his family’s 400-year-old samurai sword to the town. Just before his death in 1997, Nubuo was named an honorary citizen. Melissa Iwai’s watercolor and mixed media illustrations convey movement and warmth across the fifty-five years of history, and capture Nubuo’s kind and humble heart. During a moment when it seems that Americans argue with one another more than they agree, and political leaders volley political barbs in the face of a government shut-down, this book is a welcome reminder and invitation to all of us to model civility and forgiveness in our own communities, without waiting for our elected officials.
Teaching Ideas and Invitations
Giving Thanks. Over the years, Nobuo did many kind things for the Brookings community, including supporting student travel, and providing books for the town library. After reading Thirty Minutes Over Oregon, have your students think about who in their community generously supports the school, library, and city/town institutions and events. Have students name the people they know, and help them to find out about others. Invite these benefactors into your classroom for a thank you party, and have students prepare questions for their guests about why they share their time and money with the community. Have students consider what they can do for their community, and support them as they figure out how they can do something good.
Finding the Courage to Apologize. In Nobleman’s Author’s Note, he discusses the events surrounding the book in greater detail. He also poses an important question for his young readers. He explains that Nobuo “accepted responsibility for what he had done. He may not have been honored for attacking America, but he was honored many times over, for apologizing to America. He went from fighting to uniting. Which took more courage?” Ask you students to consider and answer his question. First, give them time to free write or sketch out their thoughts. Next, give them the opportunity to have paired conversations Finally, have students report out in a whole class conversation. After students have had time to ruminate over this question, ask them to consider if they have anything for which they would like to apologize. Allow students private space and time to write their apologies. If students have the courage to share those written apologies with friends or families, offer them the opportunity to do so. If students feel comfortable, you might even ask them to describe how apologizing made them feel, and what they can do to feel more courageous the next time they need to apologize for something.
Celebrating Other Cultures Through Reading: Library Audit. Over the years, “Nobuo donated thousands of dollars to the town, specifically so the library could buy children’s books that celebrate other cultures. He wondered if World War II would have been different had his generation grown up reading books like those.” Have your students consider what they know and don’t know about other cultures around the world and within the United States. Make a list of cultures, religions, and countries that your students would like to know more about it. Have students conduct an audit of your classroom, school, and local public library. Are they able to find books? Are there some countries or cultures that are represented at the expense of others? Have students talk with your school and public librarians about the collections. Next, have them research possible titles to add to the collections. Have some students write persuasive letters to the School Board and some students write persuasive letters to the library administration, requesting that these books be purchased.
Learning More about Nobuo: After reading the book, your students may be curious to learn more about Nobuo. They can read about his sword on display at the Brookings Public Library, his life story in this New York Times obituary in 1997, and see videos of Nobuo in this CBS news story. In your conversations in response to these resources, ask students to consider if anything they have seen or read makes them think about the book differently, or prompt questions for the author or illustrator about their representation of Nobuo.
Visual Literacy: Color. Do a picture walk of the the book with students. Ask them to consider what they notice about the use of colors. Next, ask them to notice specifically where they see different shades of green (every page). Read the book aloud, and then ask students to come back to the color green. Have a class conversation about the use of green. What role does it play? Why might the illustrator and the book designer have chosen to use green throughout the book? If you or your students are unaware of the role the book designer plays in the production process, this background information might help you develop your explanation.
Research, Revision, Perseverance: Writing and Illustrating Nonfiction: Use Thirty Minutes Over Oregon as a launch for a nonfiction writing/illustrating unit. Read the book with students, providing time for them to share their responses, and then share the last page of the book, which includes both an Author’s Note and Selected Sources. Have students try to identify the different types of texts that Marc Tyler Nobleman used to conduct his research. Next, share the book’s history in Nobleman’s blog post from September 2011, in which he details the history of the book’s research and rejections. Have students discuss what they have learned about the research, writing, and publishing process, as well as the emotions experienced by the author along the journey to publication. Record on an anchor chart the lessons about process they can take into their own research. Next, share illustrator Melissa Iwai’s extensive blog post detailing how she conducted research. Have students discuss what new things they have learned about the research process, and the about the importance of illustrators doing research. Continue to record those lessons learned on the anchor chart. From there, support students as they conduct original research, writing, and illustrating, drawing upon the picture book and the blog posts as mentor texts and processes.
Learning More About Japan. Provide your students with an opportunity to learn more about the country of Japan and its cultural heritage. Depending on your community, you may have sizable population Japanese-American families, or you have a very small population. Using local or your own personal connections, invite Japanese-American families to share their culture with the class. With the help of your school or public librarian, curate a range of resources about Japan and Japanese culture. Create a class book about Japan that students co-author, that can become a part of your classroom and school library.
Learning More About Pearl Harbor. After reading Thirty Minutes Over Oregon, students may be interested in learning more about Pearl Harbor. Support students as they learn more about the bombing and its aftermath. Be sure to preview the following resources to ensure that you share developmentally appropriate resources for your age group: Library of Congress Today in History, Library of Congress Interviews Following the Attack on Pearl Harbor, Pearl Harbor, New York Times Topic, Remember Pearl Harbor, Smithsonian Institute, Smithsonian Channel: Japan Enters WWII, Remembering Pearl Harbor, National Archives, USS Arizona Memorial, National Park Service. If possible, bring in a diverse range of senior citizens/elders from your community who have memories of Pearl Harbor from their childhoods.
Grades 5 and Up
Learning More About the Internment of Japanese-Americans in WWII. Use Thirty Minutes Over Oregon to launch book clubs that explore the experience of Japanese Americans in the West in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor. After reading the picture book aloud as a way of introducing the conflict between Japan and the United States during World War II, allow students to self-select which historical novels, memoir, or nonfiction they are interested in reading: Dash by Kirby Larson, Weedflower by Cynthia Kadohata, Journey to Topaz by Yoshiko Uchida, Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, Paper Wishes by Lois Sepahban, and Imprisoned: The Betrayal of Japanese-Americans During World War II by Martin Sandler. Have students work in flexible groups in order to learn from one another, and have them explore age-appropriate selected resources on the Japanese Internment, drawing from the resources below. If possible, bring in a community member whose parents or grandparents experienced the internment camps, to share that personal history with students. Have students respond to their new learning by creating multigenre research portfolios (fiction, nonfiction, poetry, visual art) and reflecting on the historical connections to today, and the moral issues surrounding the relocation and imprisonment of American citizens.
Duet Reading: Citizens Collaborating Towards Reconciliation and Equity. Read aloud both Thirty Minutes Over Oregon and Seeds of Freedom: The Peaceful Integration of Huntsville, Alabama written by Hester Bass and illustrated by E.B. Lewis. Have students discuss the ways in which citizens and community leaders worked together to create change in both locations, in different times and places, and in response to different issues of enmity and inequity. What are some of the ways in which each community came together to build bridges? What needs healing in your community? Have students consider small steps that they can take to bring together people who may be in conflict with one another, and then enlist members of your school community to help make those small steps happen.
Grades 7 and Up
Duet: Thirty Minutes Over Oregon and Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story. Use Thirty Minutes Over Oregon as an entrypoint for exploring the consequences and aftermath of the atomic bombs dropped by the United States in Japan. Have students explore this important story and the emotional resonance it has for them. Next, have them begin to read Sachiko. In sharp contrast to the experiences of the residents of Brookings, Oregon, the Japanese citizens living in Hiroshima and Nagasaki experienced extensive death and devastation, with related health and environmental challenges that continue to this day, over seventy years later. Have students note the role of the US government as it occupied Japan in the aftermath of the war. Compare and contrast Sachiko’s story and Nobuo’s, one as victim, one as would-be perpetrator. What are the moral dimensions of war? What can be done to prevent nuclear devastation from happening again? Have students explore the status of nuclear weapons globally, and current U.S. policy, and have students write letters to the representatives in Congress advocating for their emerging beliefs about nuclear weapons.
Marc Tyler Nobleman Office Page
Melissa Iwai Official Website
Houston, J. W. (1972/2002). Farewell to Manzanar. Houghton Mifflin.
Kadohata, C. (2006) Weedflower. Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
Larson, L. (2014). Dash. Scholastic Press.
Mochizuki, K. (1993). Baseball saved us. Lee and Low Books.
Moss, M. (2013). Barbed wire baseball. Ill. by Y. Shimizu. Abrams Books for Young Readers.
Oppenheim, J. (2006). Dear Miss Breed. Scholastic Nonfiction.
Sandler, M. (2013). Imprisoned: The betrayal of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Walker Books for Young Readers.
Sepahban, L. (2016). Paper wishes. Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers.
Uchida, Y. (1971/2004). Journey to Topaz. Heyday Books.
Union of Concerned Scientists on Nuclear Weapons (against proliferation of nuclear weapons)
Coerr, E. (1971/1999). Sadako and the thousand paper cranes. Puffin.
Stelson, C. B. (2016). Sachiko: A Nagasaki bomb survivor’s story. Carolrhoda Books.
Tsuchiya, Y. (1988). Faithful elephants: A true story of animals, people, and war. Ill. by T. Lewin. Houghton Mifflin.
Bass, H. (2015). Seeds of freedom: The peaceful integration of Huntsville, Alabama. Ill. by E.B. Lewis. Candlewick Press.
About Mary Ann Cappiello
Mary Ann is a professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former public school language arts and humanities teacher, she is a passionate advocate for and commentator on children’s books. Mary Ann is the co-author of Teaching with Text Sets (2013) and Teaching to Complexity (2015) and Text Sets in Action: Pathways Through Content Area Literacy (Stenhouse, 2021). She has been a guest on public radio and a consultant to public television. From 2015-2018, Mary Ann was a member of the National Council of Teachers of English's Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction (K-8) Committee, serving two years as chair.
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