Children soak up information like sponges because everything is new to them; that sense of wonder we often hear about comes naturally. When it comes to history, a child might tell their parents about the neat new book they’re reading, and the parent will usually smile and nod and go back to what they were doing—it’s history, right? We’ve heard it all before. However, Samantha Seiple’s new book, Ghosts in the Fog: The Untold Story of Alaska’s WWII Invasion, will be an exception to that rule. This nonfiction narrative tells a story that’s totally unknown to most people, one that’s so fascinating parents will be tempted to take the book right out of their child’s hands!
It seems that shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the start of World War II, American forces engaged Japan on battlefields throughout the South Pacific, but they were also involved in defending this country farther north. As Seiple tells us, not only did Japan bomb the Alaskan Aleutian Islands—a fact that may be known to most history buffs—they actually invaded the remote islands. In a clear, you-are-there style, she recounts the horrific circumstances of war that came to one of the loneliest areas on the planet.
Seiple helps young readers see through the eyes of people like Mike Lokanin, who came to the Aleutians as a seven-year-old orphan, and who as an adult saw his village destroyed and was forced onto to a ship bound for Japan. Then there’s Charlie House, a Navy weatherman who was stationed on one of the bleakest of the islands, and who subsequently lived off the land for weeks following the invasion, almost starving to death before his capture.
War is not a pleasant subject, but while Seiple pulls no punches in her description of the invasion and the bloody battle to free the territory, she makes it as palatable as she can for her pre-teen audience. In many ways, Ghosts in the Fog is the story of the Pacific war in microcosm: the brutality and implacableness of the Japanese (along with the cultural background of their soldiers to put that in perspective), the fear of the civilians, the heroism and mistakes made by the military, even a relocation program aimed at Native Aleutians to rival what happened to Japanese Americans.
Ghosts in the Fog is a gripping look at an obscure part of American history, and at the reasons this episode was deliberately forgotten. Middle schoolers who read Seiple’s account will have a surprising piece of history to share with their parents.
James Neal Webb works in the Interlibrary Loan department of the Vanderbilt University Library.