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In Attu Boy, Nick Golodoff was six years old when his peaceful life in a remote Aleutian village was interrupted by the invasion of the Japanese army in 1942. 

How does Nick’s story of enemy invasion, occupation, and finally becoming a prisoner of war fit within the larger story of resiliency in Alaska History? 

Because Nick tells his story through the eyes of a child, do you think resonate with students? In what way can this story be used in the classroom?  Elementary and/or Secondary?

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  • Nick Golodoff wrote as an adult about the perspective of a child with information gathered from his memories and the historic record of the stories told by others.  He could choose the parts meaningful to himself as an adult, which is the same situation we usually have when books are written from a child's perspective.  We get to find out what the adult would like to show children.  I see Golodoff emphasizing the importance of place and community, the same values we have been exploring throughout this class.  At one point the idea came up about whether the islands were occupied by the Japanese or the Americans.  This causes a person to stop and think about autonomy, nationalism.  Golodoff speaks of the people on Attu, in Japan, and on Atka, and how many people he left behind as he moved from one to the next.

    Students would enjoy the parts about where his boat that he built with left-over military supplies sunk three different times, and he always made it to shore somehow by swimming and towing the boat.  The birthday advice from Elders also emerges as an idea a class would enjoy discussing.  I have always had a similar theory that a person should try to include anything they want to accomplish in the next year on their birthday.  These stories could engage students as they find their way through the implications of assimilation,\

    Becky Gerik

  • Because Nick tells his story through the eyes of a child, do you think resonate with students? In what way can this story be used in the classroom?  Elementary and/or Secondary?

    Attu Boy is a very rich story that has tremendous potential for connecting with students. Of course you can plain boil salmon or you can bake it with ranch dressing and onions. Simply throwing the book at students telling them to read it may be less palatable than a proper lead in. Many students would find the hypothetical situation of an invading enemy army fairly fertile grounds for creative writing of their own. If I were to use Attu Boy in the classroom, that is where I would start, no mention of the book or the direction, but a simple short writing piece based on the hypothetical skeleton of the Attu story. Only then would I let the students know that just such a thing actually happened. It would be exciting to compare the elements of their imagined stories with events that actually took place.
    In our region, there are still a very few men alive who served in the Aleutian campaign and might be available to supplement the reading of Nick’s account with their own experiences mopping up from the Japanese invasion. Failing that, there are Unangan people in many communities who had parents or grandparents who were interned in Southeast Alaska. This is a very parallel history both chronologically and in its elements. When I taught AK Studies I had a teacher whose mother was born in the internment camp come and share with my students the events. It was definitely a mind expanding experience to hear very accurate accounts of what happened both the humorous and the horrific.

  • How does Nick’s story of enemy invasion, occupation, and finally becoming a prisoner of war fit within the larger story of resiliency in Alaska History?

    Resiliency absolutely fits the life of Nick Golodoff, but I feel like it cannot be mentioned outside of the context of the population bottleneck that the people of Attu experienced with the high percentage of population loss. My first surprise in the book was the intact and abundant life that the villagers were living prior to the Japanese invasion. When I consider the fact that the pre-WWII population of Attu had already gone through the atrocities of the promeshlyneki and most certainly the Spanish flu and other epidemics, I find it very powerful the level of community cohesiveness and peacefulness that existed there. It would be easy to write it off as simply the memories of one man’s childhood, but the interviews in the latter half of the book also support this. Family units were intact, there was a village system of distribution of resources, people cooperated together in subsistence activities and fox harvesting. If that does not speak to resiliency, I do not know what does.

    Within the larger context of Alaska history, not a single group of people in Alaska was unscathed by the introduction of disease resulting from the influx of outsiders. Although the story of Attu stands unique in that they alone were taken captive by enemy forces during the war, every region and every community has experienced its own population bottleneck and subsequent rebound. As these histories fade from oral tradition, their preservation in writing becomes more and more important.

  • Alaska’s story is a series of chapters of interaction between different peoples (Russians and Aleuts, gold prospectors and Native Alaskans, etc.) and also of exploitation. Sometimes it’s the land being exploited, as in the case of the various gold rushes and the Kennecott copper mine) and sometimes it’s people. In this case, the Aleuts are once again the target. As Golodoff said, “The old-timers used to tell me that the Russians were tough, mean, and killed a lot of people” (33). Now the Aleuts face a new threat as the Japanese invade and take prisoners. Then the Americans will force the Aleuts to relocate in a very similar manner to Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 against the Japanese Americans. Once again, we see Alaskans who are being forced out of their homes while others occupy their traditional lands. In order to survive and preserve their culture and history, Alaskans have had to be resilient. It would be interesting to pose the question of who constitutes an “enemy” to Alaskans over the decades. I suspect most students would agree that the Japanese were enemies as they were invading, but I wonder what they would say about the Russians, gold miners, American soldiers, and oil companies who have flooded into the state at various times.


    I do think this story would resonate with students, although I think at the elementary level excerpts would probably be more appropriate. For 9th graders I could easily see this as supplemental to the video “Aleut evacuation” so classes get a fuller story of both the Japanese and American exploitation of the Aleuts during the war. It would also be interesting to extend this activity to brainstorm the problems the Aleuts face upon their return to their homes, for those who do return. Many of their houses and churches had been burned and they face the task of rebuilding their homes and lives.

  • How does Nick’s story of enemy invasion, occupation, and finally becoming a prisoner of war fit within the larger story of resiliency in Alaska History?

    The detail that is used to describe his life both before and after the invasion is so telling of how much "outsiders" take a toll on native lives. Attu Boy really made me step back and think, that throughout Alaska's history, this has happened time and time again. Outsiders keep intervening in the lives and culture of the lands indigenous peoples, and time and time again, they must find a way to "fit in" in the land that was once their own. These Alaskan native people, people whom were already established, are now expected to conform to new ways from the outside "invading culture". The ability to survive and not be lost in the onslaught, is truly a feat in and of itself. Other cultures throughout history have been washed away by the dominating invaders, never to be heard from again. 

  • Resiliency is needed to  survive as individuals and as cultural groups.  Attu Boy is a great example of how a young boy struggled to survive despite death, starvation and the many hardships he faced.  As a young boy and later in his life he had to endure and adapt to the environment around him.  His survival was one of great determination and he learned to "make the best of the situation at hand."  Perhaps this theme is key to the larger story of how people survive, and continue to live in Alaska despite many difficult situations and hardships.  The often used phrase "What does not kill us will only make us stronger" is one that helped build resiliency in the many people that have shaped our great state.  

    I think this story (or parts of it) could be used with both elementary and secondary students as an example of how someone who was very young survived some terrible circumstances.  I would use this story to compare and contrast the life of Nick to their own lives.  We could locate on a map/globe where the story took place.  We could discuss the feelings might Nick have had during his time of captivity and  he felt when he couldn't return to his homeland.  We might also discuss some of the other people's memories and perspectives of the time of captivity and why they were slightly different from each other.   

  •  Nick Golodoff’s story, from occupation to capture to POW status and relocation shows the resiliency of Alaska Natives: adaptation, intrepidness, and acceptance.  He His narrative shows how the Aleuts are quite aware that the US is at war, that possibly Japanese are scouting the islands; the narrative speaks of conditions in the POW camp, devastating illnesses, lack of food, the treatment by the Japanese. While Nick, as a child, would be termed “an unreliable narrator” in literary terms, coupling his account with other adult narratives from the end of the book helps the reader piece the history together. Yet Nick’s understated narrative is especially powerful, partly due to his age, as he is still trying to piece the world together, by watching the adults from his culture, and the Japanese. Ironically, it seems some of their troubles were brought on by the Americans, who confiscated the yen they earned laboring in the dolomite mines, and who destroyed their village in bombing raids.

    Particularly saddening is that the Attuans were not allowed to return to Attu, due to the military debris there, as many interned Alaska Natives were not allowed to return to their islands either. In fact, rumors that the resettlement of Aleutians was a forced assimilation persist to this day.

    Because Nick tells his story through the eyes of a child, do you think this will resonate with students?


    I think the story is all the more powerful told through the eyes of a child—however, in a way he is like Scout Finch, recalling the experience as an adult, without the adult assumptions, which we as adults bring to the reading. Nick reports events with the equanimity of a child, not worrying about motives, but inserting explanations when he has them.  His sentence structure is relatively simple. There is another book, a fiction book, describing the Japanese capture of the Aleutians—it is called The Wind is Not a River by Arnold Griese, and tells the story through the eyes of two children who are not in the village when the Japanese attack, but watch from a distance.


    In what way can this story be used in the classroom?


    First hand accounts are always good to use, and one that is told through the eyes of a 6-year-old, with no agenda to push, is especially valuable. It would certainly be interesting to place adult accounts of the invasion next to Nick’s—his is a bit more benign—how the guards would give him candy—while the adults speak of having fish confiscated, and having to burn the house boards since they are not allowed to leave the village to hunt for wood. What is clear from accounts is that as POWs the Attuans were treated better than Chinese, Korean, or other American prisoners.  In fact, they were treated differently than the other Alaskan Natives who were interned on the mainland. One way I would approach this is to have students compare the treatment of the Attu POWs in Japan with the treatment of those who were interned on the mainland. There were many of the same issues—lack of food, illness, etc. However, the Alaska Natives interned on the mainland were often treated as prisoners—not allowed to leave the camps, etc. They even wrote letters to various entities complaining of their treatment, pointing out quite rightly that as American Citizens, they were clearly being treated worse than the German and Italian POWs down the road.


    Letters from the camp can be found here:



    These are from the website constructed by the producers of the video Aleut Story.

    Another fictional rendering is Karen Hesse’s Aleutian Sparrow.


    The rapprochement of the Japanese, with the book written in the 1980s by Masami Sugiyama, in tracking down Nick from the photograph is certainly another interesting perspective to discuss in class. Nick states he wasn’t particular friends with the soldier, and wonders what the subsequent articles and books actually said about this picture.

  • I loved this book and cannot wait for my daughters to read it. I have four daughters ranging in age from 8-20. One is in elementary, one in secondary, and two in college, and there is not one to whom I would not recommend this book. I think telling it from the perspective of a child increases the emotional attachment of the reader, regardless of age. The mainstream view of children as innocent and vulnerable fosters a sense of obligation to protect them and immediately serves to invest the reader in the story.


    What I think is important to add to the discussion is that this is not only a story for Native Alaskans. This story is beautiful, but not unique in its message. History is filled with removal and subsequent attempts at reunification. That is what makes this book important. It has a universal application to the literal and figurative plight of existence that so many cultures have historically and currently face.


    As an elementary and middle school aged child, I lived in Germany. At that time, there were still many Germans who had lived through World War II. I had a great deal of exposure to many first hand accounts, artifacts, and sites with access to people who were part of what had happened. This book brought to the forefront, the thoughts and feelings I has experienced decades ago as a young girl in Germany.


    Golodoff’s story echoes that of other Alaska Native peoples from earlier times. Just as the people of Attu were taken prisoner, many Alaska Native children, beginning in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, were similarly “taken prisoner,” so to speak, in efforts by the U.S. government and religious organizations to civilize the “Indians.” When the children eventually returned to their villages, they may as well have been sent to another country. That is to say, the people were related, as many in Atka were to the Attu people, but it must have felt like entering an alternate dimension for all the cultural knowledge that was missing.


    In line with Golodoff’s frustration at the unwillingness of so many to talk about the Attu internment in Japan, this book left me wanting to know more about what happened there. I think “Attu Boy” would be a worthy book to add to any course on Alaska History or World War II. The telling of it from the perspective of a child only makes it all the more touching and accessible to the reader. 

  • I think my classmates have done a nice job covering how this story relates and speaks to the resiliency of the Alaskan Natives. To start with, they have had to survive in a variety of oftentimes very harsh environments. Since European contact, they have been oppressed, abused, and marginalized, yet have still managed to retain their cultural identity in many ways.

    In Nick's story, he and his fellow Attuans showed great resilience not only by means of simply surviving on Attu, but overcoming the huge challenges they faced during, and after WWII. They were attacked, captured, and held prisoner for years. Furthermore, when they were set free they weren't even allowed to go back to their home, but were forced to live on another island, and start over again. Nick goes on to show even more resilience through his working life learning new skills and trades in an effort to create a better life for himself. Attu Boy is simply one of many stories that shows the resiliency of Native Alaskans.

  • The larger story of resiliency within Alaska History is that of the flexibility of cultures in the face of difficulties. Certainly the Attuans demonstrated admirable cultural flexibility as the various cultures of Russia, America, and finally Japan came to dominate their small island community. Nick’s particular story proper is a bit difficult to discern, told as it is through the eyes of such a young child, but some of the recollections in the second half of the book – retold by adult survivors in later years – show an attitude of adaptation that allowed Attuans to survive their captivity, subsequent harsh years in Japan, and disruptive resettlement in Atka.

                Oddly enough, I would hesitate to use much of this material for historical information; in other words, if I wanted my students to learn about life on Atuu in the 1940s or the lives of the POWs in Japan, I would use other sources. My students are poor readers for their grade levels, and reading anything other than Standard English at an upper-elementary level would confuse them more than it would teach them. I would have to spend copious amounts of class time teaching students to actually read semi-non-grammatical first person accounts, and while the sources are interesting to me as a fluent reader, I would prefer to spend that class time moving forward in content. That being said, I could imagine taking a single one of the short accounts in the second half, cleaning up its English into something at an accessible level and using it to show the emotional difficulties faced by evacuees or something similar.

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