Operation Happy by Jenni L Walsh

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Operation Happy by Jenni L Walsh is an inspiring historical children’s novel that I read in just one sitting. It is perfect for ages eight to twelve years, although anyone who loves history would enjoy this book.

The book begins in 1938 but it’s main focus is the terrible events of Pearl Harbour in December 1941. The whole book revolves around this date. The action is seen through the eyes of marine dog Happy, and the daughter of a marine, Jody, whose father is posted to Pearl Harbour in 1940.

This is a powerful read as the war is presented through the eyes of a child. It is written in a way that young readers can understand without absolutely terrifying them. There is just enough detail without being too graphic.

Happy is retired from active marine life when he is given to Jody one Christmas. Happy is losing his 20 20 vision and growing older. His name is very apt. “It’s … near impossible not to look at you [Happy] and smile.” He is a loyal dog whose nature is happy. “It feels like an eternity has passed between saying goodbye to Gordon and hello to Jody.”

Happy takes his responsibilities very seriously. Jenni Walsh has the skill to put herself in Happy’s shoes as we see some events through his eyes. We learn how he is guided by his nose. He can smell fear and he can smell happiness. He also has the ability to instinctively know when something is wrong.

As Happy grows older, Jody wants to make the most of the time he has left. “It’ll be our Happy List, and we’ll make the most of the time we have left together.” Happy’s List also saves his family as it gives Jody something to focus on during the dark days.

The novel is in two parts – leading up to Pearl Harbour and the immediate aftermath; and as refugees in San Fransisco whilst their father remains behind in Pearl Harbour. We witness how hard it is on the family, especially as the mother falls apart. It is up to Jody to keep her family together.

Despite the difficult themes, there are moments of humor. Happy is a big dog, a mixture of several large breeds including Husky. As he gets on a bus, we ‘see’ life as Happy sees it. “He grins. The driver startles. He grins with a little less teeth. That does the trick.” The reader needs this humor to break up the narrative of war.

It is important to realise that not all Japanese were responsible for Pearl Harbour – certainly not the young Japanese maid nor the Japanese American schoolgirl who was interned with her family, after the event.

Operation Happy was a powerful read. It was an inspiring read. It is a book that all children should read in order to know what happened during World War II. I believe it should be part of the English National Curriculum.

I thoroughly enjoyed Operation Happy and I will leave you with my favourite quote:

“As a family that moves a lot, home isn’t a destination, home is wherever we are together.” Wow! So powerful.

I received a free copy via Net Galley. A favourable review was not required. All opinions are my own.


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