Middle-Grade Review: Operation: Happy: A World War II Story of Courage, Resilience, and an Unbreakable Bond by Jenni L. Walsh


About This Book:

As World War II enters her backyard, a young girl tries to cope with the war and keep her family together by completing a bucket list with her best friend: her dog Happy. Featuring a dog’s POV and inspired by real-life experiences of a young Pearl Harbor survivor, this historical middle-grade novel will inspire readers 8-12 to find courage in any situation.
It’s 1940, and Jody is moving with her military family yet again—this time to a small naval base in Pearl Harbor. She’s always created a “top ten” list for each new home to help her adjust, and with Hawaii being so beautiful and her loyal dog Happy by her side, it’s easy to find things to add. 

But Jody’s mom is convinced the island is dangerous and starts constantly practicing first aid. Jody also learns that Happy is getting older and beginning to slow down. To cope, she makes a list of fun things they can do together. “Operation: Happy” gives her something to focus on beyond the scary new experiences, like air raid drills and Yellow Fever vaccinations. 

Before long, everyone’s worst fears come true: Pearl Harbor is attacked. In the aftermath, Jody’s father must stay behind as the rest of the family is evacuated, and Jody promises him she will keep everyone together. But things are hard in San Francisco, where she feels like an outsider. Worse, her mother has become depressed, and Jody worries she and her sister will have to go to an orphanage. With Happy by her side, Jody hatches a brave plan to keep the family safe … Will Operation: Happy see them through?

*Review Contributed By Karen Yingling, Staff Reviewer*

WWII Homefront Story of a Military Family

Jody Zuber is used to moving around to be with her father, who is based in San Diego with the Marines in 1938. For Christmas, she gets a Shirley Temple doll, a Monopoly game, a Nancy Drew book… and her most desired gift, a dog. Happy is a retired Marine dog, a German Shepherd/Collie/Husky mix, and is large enough to take up half of Jody’s bed, which is just what she wants. When the family moves to Ford Island near Honolulu in 1940, Jody and Happy have all manner of adventures. While Jody and her older sister Peggy are happy to be in the warm weather of Hawaii, their mother is constantly apprehensive and worried. She learns first aid, and is vigilant about the drills, and wants to send the girls to live with their Aunt Maude stateside. When Jody sees smoke on a Sunday morning in December of 1941, she can’t get the attention of her family because no alarms have sounded, but of course the Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor. The father reports for duty and the rest of the family hastily don bathrobes and go to the shelter, where the robes are eventually used to help injured soldiers. When the family goes back to their house, they realize that the blast has driven all of the nails through the walls. They relocate to Honolulu, but eventually are evacuated to San Francisco. The mother refuses the help of the Navy and the Red Cross, and finds a run down, furnished apartment for them to live in while the father is off fighting. The girls start school, and Jody has to deal with the nosy Mary, the traumatized Sarah, and the shadow left by students like Mei, who was sent off to a Japanese relocation camp. The mother stops going to the store, and can barely get out of bed, and Peggy and Jody have to fend for themselves. Sarah notices this because she is living in an orphanage while her father is at war, and she knows the signs of children who don’t have a mother to iron their clothes or comb their hair. After Peggy is almost attacked in the lobby of the apartment building but saved by Happy, the girls decide to find another place to live. They find one, but there mother can’t even sign the lease. This leads Jody to contact her father, and soon the Marines are helping them move into a new place and her mother gets the medical attention that she needs.

Good Points
This is an intriguing look at a military family in a pivotal place and time at the beginning of World War II. This has more details about moving and daily life during that time, and the inclusion of a former service dog is interesting. The depiction of the bombing comes about a third of the way into the book, so there’s just enough build up, and the evacuation of civilians is not something I’ve read about. I love Jody’s generally positive attitude, as well as the agency and motivation she and Peggy embrace when their mother isn’t doing well in San Francisco. There are so many WWII stories out there, but there are still so many that haven’t been told.

This is partially based on Joan Zuber Earle’s 2001 memoir, Children of Battleship Row, so the details are all very authentic, much like Shirley Hughes’ book set in Liverpool, Whistling in the Dark.

This is a good choice for readers who want home front WWII books like Albus’ Nothing Else But Miracles , Cushman’s The War and Millie McGonigle, or Elliott’s Louisa June and the Nazi’s in the Waves, and has some marked similarities of setting to Alan Gratz’ 2/6/24 Heroes.

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