Three Years and Eight Months (©2013) written by Icy Smith and illustrated by Jennifer Kindert is based on the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong during World War II.
Ten-year-old Choi lives in Hong Kong with his mother and uncle. When the Japanese military invades Hong Kong in December of 1941, Choi’s mother is taken from him and he and his uncle must fight to survive. Choi and his friend Taylor, a Chinese-American boy, learn Japanese and are sent to work at a Japanese military station. From inside the military station, Choi and Taylor steal medical supplies for Choi’s uncle, who has joined an underground anti-Japanese resistance group. Choi and Taylor also befriend a kind Japanese soldier named Watanabe-san. This helps to humanize the Japanese people without diminishing the atrocities committed on behalf of the Japanese government.
The book is inspired by the author’s own father, uncle, and grandmother, who lived through the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong. The author’s personal connection to the subject matter is part of what makes this book so engaging. The heart-rending story gives a compelling view of the effect that war can have on a country while the richly detailed illustrations enhance the story and serve to further engage readers. The book honestly depicts the suffering of the citizens of Hong Kong without being too graphic for a younger audience.
The Japanese occupation of Hong Kong is a frequently overlooked part of 20th century world history. Three Years and Eight Months is a unique book that educators and homeschoolers will appreciate. This book would be an excellent extended reading selection to supplement a World War II or Holocaust curriculum for grades 5 through 8.
There is an extensive section of historical notes at the end of the book that further details the brutality of the Japanese soldiers during the occupation of Hong Kong from 1942-1945. This section is likely too mature for an elementary school audience and would be better received by seventh and eighth graders.
Disclosure: I received a copy of Three Years and Eight Months from the publisher to facilitate my review. I was not compensated for this review and all opinions are my own.