Under the Blood-Red Sun


"The reason at the bottom of all the wars in the history of human life--is power. It's like a drug. Some men can't get enough of it."
--from Under the Blood-Red Sun

After the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor, it is the friendship and loyalty of eighth-grader Tomi Nakaji's baseball buddies that help him through this terrifying time.

The following books are also discussed in this guide:

Soldier's Heart by Gary Paulsen
"If it were left up to the men who did the killing and dying there would be no war."
--from Soldier's Heart

Soldier's Heart is the gripping, heartwrenching story of war as seen through the eyes of Charley Goddard, a 16-year-old who enlisted in the First Minnesota Volunteers in June 1861 and fought in almost every major battle in the Civil War.

The Red Badge of Courage By Stephen Crane

"It would be impossible for him to escape from the regiment. It enclosed him.... He was in a moving box."
--from The Red Badge of Courage

This is the classic story of a young soldier's first two days in battle during the Civil War.

The Last Mission
by Harry Mazer

"Because war is crazy. People don't matter the way I thought. It's not men fighting each other. It's all machines and bombs and what your luck is. You just try to stay out of the way, just try not to get killed."
--Jack Raab in The Last Mission

Fifteen-year-old Jack Raab is eager to fight Hitler when he enlists in the Air Corps during World War II, but seeing his best friend killed when their plane is shot down makes him wonder if there is any meaning to all the deaths.


Graham Salisbury writes from the heart and draws on his own experiences of growing up in Hawaii. His drive to write about the emotional journey that kids must take to become adults in a challenging and complicated world is evident through his work. Says the author: "I've thought a lot about what my job is, or should be, as an author of books for young readers. I don't write to teach, preach, lecture, or criticize, but to explore. . . . And if my stories show [characters] choosing certain life options, and the possible consequences of having chosen those options, then maybe I will have finally done something worthwhile. Wonder of wonders."

Salisbury has already done something worthwhile. His first novel, Blue Skin of the Sea, won the PEN/Norma Klein Award, the Bank Street Child Study Award, and the Parents' Choice Book Award, and was selected as an NCTE Notable Trade book in the Language Arts, a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year, and an ALA Best Book for Young Adults.

His second novel, Under the Blood-Red Sun has won the prestigious Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction, the 1998 Hawaii Nene Award, as well as numerous other honors. This powerful and poignant book is the moving story of a Japanese American boy caught in the aftermath of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Shark Bait is a fast-paced, exciting action story that explores the lure of violence and its consequences for a boy and his friends when a Saturday night tumult stuns a Hawaiian village. To read a letter to educators and hear an excerpt from the book, along with pronunciations of the unusual words and character names from the novel, click here.

The most recent novel from Salisbury, Lord of the Deep, enticingly combines the high action of fishing with a narrative that delves into the intricate relationship between a 13-year-old boy and his new stepfather.

Born in Hawaii, Graham Salisbury is a descendant of the Thurston and Andrews families, who were among the first missionaries to arrive in the Hawaiian Islands. He grew up on the islands of Oahu and Hawaii. Later, he graduated from California State University and received an MFA degree from Vermont College of Norwich University. Salisbury has worked as the skipper of a glass-bottomed boat, as a deckhand on a deep-sea fishing boat, as a musician, and also as an elementary school teacher. Today, he lives with his family in Portland, Oregon, where he manages a historic office building.


Getting Started: Thinking About War

Have the class take the following opinion poll, noting whether they agree or disagree. There are no right or wrong answers. The only identifying marks on the students' papers should be an "M" or "F" to indicate the gender of the student, for tallying purposes.

1. War is crazy.
2. War is always bad.
3. War is fun and exciting.
4. War is sometimes necessary.
5. Big wars are bad but little wars are okay.
6. In a war there are "good guys" and "bad guys."
7. In a war everybody thinks his side is right.
8. I think it would be exciting to fight in a war.
9. I don't ever want to be in a war.

Tally the answers on three separate charts, for the class as a whole and for boys and girls separately. Discuss any patterns that emerge. Retain the chart until the end of this unit and use with the culminating activity below.

Pre-reading Activity

Form committees to research and report on several general aspects of
the Civil War:

What were the economic causes?

Why did the South want to secede?

What were the major battles and their outcomes?

What was the effect of the war on the South? On the North?

Classroom Connections

Innocence and Experience --How does Charley's lack of experience contribute to his desire to go to war? At what point in the story does he lose his innocence? Do you think he would have enlisted if he had known what war was like? Later he feels old in comparison to the new recruit Nelson. Why is Charley unable to teach
Nelson what he knows?

Courage --There are several places in the story where Charley wants to leave. Is it bravery that makes him continue to face battle, or something else? Find passages to support your answer.
Friendship--Charley thinks "when a man went down he was alone, even if he was your brother." Why does Charley choose not to have friends on the battlefield?

Science (Health)--Charley tells us that "four men died of dysentery and disease for every man that died of battle wounds." Research the symptoms and causes of typhus and dysentery. How are they spread? What conditions in a Civil War army camp led to these and other diseases? The trenches of World War I? Particular illnesses in the Vietnam War?

History --Use reference books at the library to research Charley's kindly general, George McClellan. Read the history of the battles of Bull Run and Gettysburg and compare with Charley's account.

Math-- Create a graph with three bars comparing the number of Union soldiers and the number of Confederates killed in battle in the Civil War, and also the number who died of disease. What percentage of the general population at the time do these numbers represent? Leave room on your chart for adding more statistics later.

Fear --Paulsen makes Charley's fear vivid to us by describing it in terms of his bodily sensations. Think of a time when you were very afraid and write a paragraph about how it felt.

For Discussion

What are Charley's reasons for wanting to enlist? Compare these with the real causes of the Civil War that the class researched in the pre-reading exercise. What major issue in the Civil War is missing from his awareness?

In the early part of the book, Charley is confident that he is not going to be hit or killed. Later he comes to believe absolutely that he will die. At what point does the shift happen, and what causes it?

In the last chapter, Charley has returned to Winona after the war, but he is living alone in a shack by the river. Why do you suppose this is? What happens or is about to happen in the end? What clues does Paulsen give us?

What is the symbolism when Charley says he "felt his own age. . .not in years. . .but in meadows." What do "meadows" stand for? What two things does the Confederate revolver in the last chapter symbolize?

When Nelson is wounded in the stomach and faces a lingering death, he asks Charley to load his rifle for him and remove his shoe. Why? Does Charley understand what he plans to do, and is he then responsible for his death? What would you have done?

The Red Badge of Courage

Pre-Reading Activity

Collaborating as a class, compose a list of all the positive aspects (words, phrases) of war you can imagine, such as glory, heroes, victory, etc. Try to describe actual examples of each, both in war and civilian life.

Classroom Connections

Patriotism --Near the end of the book, Henry Fleming and his friend save a flag from a dying standard bearer and carry it in the battle. He regards the flag as "a goddess," and from this point on he is swept forward by patriotic fervor. What causes this sudden reversal? Can you find evidence that it is rooted in anything that has gone before in his thoughts?

Fear --Henry's great fear makes him constantly change his attitudes and feelings toward himself and his part in the war. Find passages that portray him in two different moods and write a short letter from Henry to his mother from each point of view.

Effects of War --Crane and Paulsen reach very different conclusions about the effects of war on a young mind. Reread the endings of both books and compare the mental conditions of Henry and Charley. Which do the students find more convincing?

Rage -- In both Soldier's Heart and The Red Badge of Courage, there are several scenes in which the lead characters abandon themselves to feral rage--"rabid, insane joy. . .the joy of killing to live," as Paulsen says. This is a common happening in battle and in movies starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Have you ever seen anyone come close to this kind of frenzy? Research the role of the "berserker" in the Viking Norse culture of the Middle Ages and compare.

Women's Studies --What part do mothers and sweethearts play in forming the attitudes of men toward war in these novels? Find a summary of the play Lysistrata by Aristophanes and share this not-entirely-serious idea from the ancient Greeks about a way women could demand an end to war.

Math--On your graph of Civil War casualties, add the number of Americans who died in the Revolutionary War and in World War I to the numbers from the Civil War. Compare the three sets of statistics.

For Discussion

Stories of young men going off to war often begin the same way. Compare these elements in both The Red Badge of Courage and Soldier's Heart:

The "drums and songs and slogans" that stir up enthusiasm for war

The young soldier's reasons for wanting to go

The mother's farewell

The parades and pretty girls along the way to war

The boredom of drills and the pride in uniforms

The young soldier's reaction to first battle

One Step Beyond

Read aloud the poem "In Flanders Fields." A good place to find this poem is the book In Flanders Fields: The Story of the Poem by John McCrae, in which author Linda Granfield has interwoven the lines of the poem with fascinating information about World War I, details of daily life in the trenches, accounts of McCrae's experiences in his field hospital, and a description of the tragic circumstances that led to the writing of "In Flanders Fields."

Contrast this poem with "War Is Kind" by Stephen Crane. Help the class understand Crane's irony and ask them to discuss the differences and similarities in the attitudes toward war shown in the two poems.

Under the Blood-Red Sun

Pre-reading Activity

Research the general outlines of World War II as it was fought in the Pacific. What was the significance of the bombing of Pearl Harbor? Of Hiroshima?

Classroom Connections

History--During World War II, Japanese Americans were also treated badly in the western United States and in Canada, where they were confined in camps in the desert or mountains. Find some accounts of this internment and compare it with what happened to Tomi's family.

Patriotism --What does the Japanese flag represent to Grampa? What does it mean to the neighbors and the police?

Prejudice--Find passages that show there was tension and separation between the haoles and Japanese even before the war. How do you think this distance contributes to the racial prejudice Billy experiences as the only haole on the streets of Kaka'ako? How does the friendship among the boys bridge this and other separation and suspicion?

Family Relationships--The intergenerational conflict in the Nakaji family is complicated by language and cultural differences, even though they love and respect each other. Today, too, young people and their parents sometimes have differing ideas. Compose a list of suggestions for resolving important conflicts.

Friendship--There are several close friendships in this book: Tomi and Billy, Grampa and Charlie, Keet and Jake, Tomi and Mose and Rico. In each case, what do the friends have in common that brings them together? What threatens the friendship and how is that threat overcome?

Math--On your graph of war casualties add bars for the number of American deaths from World War II and the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Total all the deaths represented on the graph.

For students to comprehend the overall impact of the wars' casualties, have them imagine that all are buried in a single military cemetery, and compare the overall size (estimate that a grave is 3 feet wide by 7 feet long) to something accessible, e.g., the size of a country or a portion of the United States. Prompt a discussion of this comparison. It will help them grasp the enormity of war's toll.

For Discussion

War is not confined to the battlefield. Civilians, too, suffer during war, even if their country is not invaded, as we see by the disruption of Tomi's family in Under the Blood-Red Sun. Assign students to research and report on the London blitz; the Dresden firebombing; the napalming of villages in Vietnam; the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; and the siege of Stalingrad.

What is the meaning of the katana to Tomi's family? What kind of behavior will preserve honor, according to Grampa? To Tomi's father? To Tomi himself? How is the way Tomi acts in the final showdown with Keet true both to the traditional way and his own need for self-respect?

For a more extensive guide on Under the Blood-Red Sun, click here.

The Last Mission

Pre-reading Activity

Research the general outlines of World War II as it was fought in Europe. What did Hitler do that began the fighting? Which countries were the Axis and which the Allies? When did the United States enter the war? What was the pattern of movement of the armies across Europe? How was the air war important to the outcome?

Classroom Connections

Friendship -- Jack feels a close bond with the other men of The Godfathers crew because they share danger together. Have you ever been part of such a group: a sports team, for example, or the cast of a play? Write an essay describing the people in the group and how you felt about them.

Heroes -- Write your own definition of a hero. Why does Jack turn down the chance to be called one by his older brother? Do you think he was a hero or not?

Social Studies/The Holocaust -- Research the genocide of the Jews by Nazi Germany. Write a report on the Dachau, Buchenwald, or another concentration camps.

Music -- Mazer refers to several songs of World War II, both as chapter headings and in the story. Ask a grandparent or other adult to sing one of these songs so you can teach it to the class. What memories does this song bring back for them?

Language Arts -- Write a letter from Dotty to Jack, showing how little she understands about what he is enduring, in spite of her friendly intentions.

For Discussion

Compare Jack's reasons for enlisting with those of Charley Goddard and Henry Fleming. Which do you think is more valid? How does Jack feel about the war when he comes home? Would he be more likely to agree with Charley or Henry?

World War II has been called "The Good War" because it seemed that good and evil were so clearly defined in the two sides. Do you think there can be a just war? What kind of enemy actions would make you feel it was necessary to fight?

Concluding Activity: Thinking About War

At the culmination of the unit on the Images of War, have students retake the opinion poll from the Getting Started section of this guide. Compare the results with the first time the class answered these questions. Have their attitudes changed? Why?

Written by Patty Campbell, author of Presenting Robert Cormier and 1989 winner of the American Library Association's Grolier Award for distinguished service to young adults and libraries


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