My Friend the Enemy Study Guide

Published 2005 by Knopf, Yearling paperback edition Feb. 2009MFTE.pb

Reading Level: Grades 5-7, 272 pages


THEMES: Loyalty, patriotism, false impressions, cross-cultural differences

SUMMARY: By the fall of 1944, the USA has been at war for almost three years and Americans are weary of casualty lists and strict rationing. But 12-year-old Hazel Anderson still struggles to “do her part” keeping a watch for enemy planes from an observation hill near her home in Hood River Valley, Oregon. When Jed Lanski, her next-door-neighbor, joins the Marines and ships out for the Pacific, Hazel intensifies her efforts, only to discover an “enemy” in her own back yard! This is Sogoji, a teenage Japanese-American boy, whom the Lanskis have been hiding so as to escape the internment that befell the Japanese community in Hood River.

After a rocky start, Hazel and Sogoji become allies in the war effort, specifically in building an observation tower on the hill. Their cultural differences are no less an obstacle than the war, but Hazel’s confidence in her new friend is growing–when the war literally explodes over their heads, dealing their friendship an almost-fatal blow.



Hazel has a rich imaginative life, and so does Sogoji. Why do they live in their imaginations so much? From what sources do they draw inspiration?

In My Friend the Enemy, Sogoji tells Hazel several stories. She tells him two. What are they? What is her purpose in telling them?

The tower they build together can be seen as a symbol. What could it represent? How does the building of it reflect the course of their friendship?

Hazel’s first impression of Sogoji is false. When does it begin to change? Of which other character does she have a false first impression, and when does that begin to change?

What does Hazel not like about her sister Estelle? What does she like?

How are Hazel and her mother alike? How are they different?

Read the conversation between Hazel and her brother Frank on pages 190-192. Does Frank make some reasonable points? What are they?

What does Mr. Lanski mean when he says, “This world is bigger than you” (page 256)? How does Hazel come to terms with that statement on the last page?

During World War II, the American public was directly involved as never before in building ships and planes, salvaging and saving commodities, contributing money, and more. Today, very few Americans are directly involved in military efforts. If you were President, how would you encourage citizens to support the war on terror? What could individuals do today?





Hazel’s father tells her that “the worst happens when you don’t expect it” (page 161). Can you think of a time in your life when this was true? Write about it in 1-2 pages.

On page 104, Hazel tells Sogoji about the school Christmas play she would write if she had the chance. From the scenario she gives, write one scene of a radio play called Junior Commandos Save Seattle (or something like that). The story must be told entirely in dialogue–with sound effects, like the radio dramas of those pre-television days. Create 3-5 characters, write a paragraph describing the action of the scene, and decide how the characters will show the action by what they say. Then write the scene.

Rallies, ad campaigns and public service announcements were all employed to encourage Americans to cut down their use of gasoline, sugar, tobacco and other commodities. Write a public service announcement to be read over the radio, explaining why listeners should give up chocolate. Be sure to give reasons and benefits, and include music if it fits. (You might combine the PSA with the drama scene above to create a WWII radio program.)

Popular singers contributed to the war effort by recording patriotic songs. Some even sang about the joys of salvaging–Mildred Bailey recorded a song called, believe it or not, “Scrap Your Fat.” Write a song or jingle about collecting fat, scrap metal, or paper.



The following people have something to do with the story, though most are not named in the book. Look up these names and discover the connection:

Douglas McArthur
Chester Nimitz
Hideki Tojo
Milt Kaniff
Isakuro Yamamoto
“Purple Heart Battalion” (100th Army)

World War II involved the United States on two fronts, or “theaters.” The major events in the Pacific Theater, after Pearl Harbor, were the Japanese Conquest of the Philippines and Guam, the battle of Coral Sea, the battle of Midway, the capture and defense of Guadalcanal, the capture of the Solomon Islands, the battle of Leyte Gulf, the capture of Iwo Jima, and the capture of Okinawa. (Hazel’s neighbor Jed was reported missing during the operations in the Philippines after Leyte Gulf.) In groups, make a timeline of these events, then have one student research each battle/action and present a brief report (including maps) to the class.

The European theater was just as important, of course. In fact, when the U. S. declared war on Japan on December 8, 1941, it also declared war on Germany and Italy. President Roosevelt decided as an overall strategy to concentrate most U. S. effort on defeating Germany first and Italy, then Japan. Have 2-4 students research what was happening in Europe during the time of the story (September 1944-January 1945) and report to the class. Don’t forget those maps!

What and when is V-E Day? What and when is V-J Day? What shattering event finally convinced the Japanese to surrender?

Hazel explains to Sogoji that nylon stockings are needed to make parachute cords. Other commodities were strictly rationed for specific reasons, including sugar, coffee, cigarettes, rubber, leather, and gasoline. Do some research and discover why Americans were restricted in their use of these things.

Research these phrases or titles found in the book and report on where they came from:

The Fighting Sullivans (page 88)
“I shall return!” (page 113)
A day that will live in infamy (page 16)

On February 19, 1942 (three months after the attack on Pearl Harbor) President Roosevelt signed “Executive Order 9066.” The order didn’t immediately command all Japanese-Americans to be herded into camps, but it authorized the Secretary of War to “prescribe military areas . . . from which any or all persons may be excluded . . .” Early in March, General John DeWitt, commander general of the Western Defense Command, established Oregon, Washington, and Northern California as Military Area No. 1. The Japanese were first encouraged to leave the USA voluntarily, but later in the month, forced evacuations began. Though most Americans supported the order, many voices were raised against it, including Edgar J. Hoover, head of the FBI. Have students research the issue pro and con, and stage a brief debate: was the order practical? Did it make sense, in the atmosphere of crisis? Was it just?   (“Just” and “practical” are not necessarily the same thing!)

According to 1940 census figures, the Japanese population in the United States was 126,947–not large, in comparison with other Asian groups. Find out about them: Why did they come to America? Where did they settle, and what did they do for a living? How did their communities develop? How did they get along with their neighbors? (The Japanese-American Citizens League can be helpful in answering these questions:



The “Fu-Go Project” is the name given to the Japanese plan to deliver incendiary bombs to the U.S. mainland by means of hot-air balloons. The project was so top-secret that its details are unknown even today, but the idea was based on fairly simply principles of air currents and geologic temperatures. Discover these principles and design a poster explaining how they worked. See “Project Fu-Go,” by Tracy E. Fern, in Cricket Magazine, September 2002. Or “The Fu-Go Project,” by Carmine A. Prioli, American Heritage, April 1982.

Early in My Friend the Enemy, Hazel is watching for Japanese planes but only discovers aircraft from her own country, such as the Corsair (page 45). The Pacific Theater is where air combat came into its own. Research the role of aircraft carriers in the Pacific, or find out what new planes were developed.



Hazel’s mother plans to sell war bonds during the picnic in chapter 1. But what are “war bonds”?

“Bonds” are often sold today by city governments as a way to raise money for a project (such as a sports stadium) that will eventually make money on its own. Here’s how it works: a citizen will buy a bond for a certain amount, and at the end of a designated period of time (usually 10-15 years) will receive that amount back, plus a dividend, or a share of the profit. During World War II the U. S. government sold bonds in the hope that after the war it would be able to pay the money back, plus 1/3 more. For example, a war bond costing $18.75 would be worth $25 in ten years, a $75 bond would be worth $100, and so on.

Even children could use their saved-up pennies to buy war stamps (with a picture of a minuteman) for ten cents each. A filled stamp book could then be exchanged for a war bond.

Using the basic equation that the average bond paid its own value plus 1/3, write your own word problems about children and their parents buying and saving bonds and stamps. (EXAMPLE: In 1943, Emily and two friends saved their babysitting money to buy a $25 bond. How much will it be worth in ten years? What will be each girl’s share?)


can doJust about everybody has seen the “Rosie the Riveter” poster showing a woman flexing her biceps under the caption “We can do it!” Posters, mostly printed by the U. S. government, were a common way of encouraging ordinary citizens to do more for the war effort, such as buying war bonds, volunteering for a service organization, saving gasoline, etc. Choose a war-promoting theme mentioned in the book and design a poster illustrating it. (See some of the actual posters for inspiration. War poster postcards, stickers, and coloring books are available at reasonable cost from Dover Publications, 31 E. 2nd St., Mineola, NY 11501-3582.