On the Horizon by Lois Lowry – Book Review

  • Title: On the Horizon
  • Author: Lois Lowry
  • Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
  • Release Date: April 7, 2020

Rating: 4 Stars

On the Horizon takes readers from the shores of Pearl Harbor to the city of Hiroshima during and after World War II. After viewing the ghost of the USS Arizona on home video, author Lois Lowry recounts the devastation Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor caused. Then, Lowry brings readers along as the Enola Gay unleashes its own fury on Hiroshima, leading to annihilation in Japan. The story does not avoid the tragedy and destruction war can bring. In its wake, readers learn about Lowry’s life in Japan, and, later, a twist of fate that demonstrates just how interconnected people are by their lived experiences and history.

Lowry’s novel, narrated in verse, recounts the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, and the aftermath of both infamous WWII events. Lowry raises timeless themes, such as interconnectedness, the impact of history across time and space, and the power of healing and friendship. Each poignant vignette packs an emotional punch. They also build toward a crescendo that will leave a long-lasting impression. The ending gives pause for deep contemplation although the story would have been well-served to surface that essential point earlier, if only to give readers more time to dwell on it. On the Horizon is personal and reflective, qualities that will resonate with all readers from all backgrounds. While WWII novels saturate middle grades curriculum, Lowry’s On the Horizon comes at it from a slightly different angle. Her story’s intimacy and the personalized nature of the accounts, stories of sailors, civilians, and more, add depth and humanity to the topic’s treatment. They also would make On the Horizon a meaningful addition as supplementary reading in a larger, comprehensive study of the time period. 

Classroom Applications

  • Literature Circles – Use the novel as part of a study about World War II.
  • Book Pairing – Pair the book with another novel about World War II, such as Grenade by Alan Gratz, to create a thought-provoking unit that captures multiple perspectives on this global conflict, especially the less-studied Pacific Theater.

Nonfiction Connections: The list below outlines topics that will enrich your students’ understanding of the novel.

  • World War II
  • WWII – Pacific Theater
  • Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
  • Pearl Harbor

Book Companions: The following are great books to pair with On the Horizon. In parenthesis are the specific aspects students could explore when synthesizing across the texts.

  • Grenade by Alan Gratz (Nonfiction Connections, Themes)
  • Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr (Nonfiction Connections, Character Connections, Themes)


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