• Non-Fiction
  • Peace Is a Chain Reaction: How World War II Japanese Balloon Bombs Brought People of Two Nations Together

Peace Is a Chain Reaction: How World War II Japanese Balloon Bombs Brought People of Two Nations Together

peace is a chain reaction

Book Information

Candlewick September 2022
Social Studies Curriculum

From an award-winning author comes a vivid depiction of an act of war from opposing sides of the conflict in World War IIand a rare reconciliation and wish for peace that evolved years later.

Adults wage war, while children are unwitting victims, pulled into a maelstrom of fear and hate without any choice. This is a story about two groups of teenagers on opposite sides of the world, forever connected by an act of war. It is a story about the adults some of those teens became, forever connected by acts of forgiveness, understanding, and peace. And it is a story about one remarkable man, whose heart belonged both to America and Japan, who put that peace and understanding in motion.

Panning the camera wide, Tanya Lee Stone lays the global groundwork for the story’s context before zooming in on the lives of the people involved, providing an intimate look at how their changing perspectives impact their actions. Through meticulous research, interviews, and archival photo curation, Stone skillfully weaves all of these stories together, illuminating how, despite the devastating pain and destruction caused by war, peace can be a chain reaction. Extensive back matter includes an author’s note, source notes, bibliography, and index.---from the publisher

176 pages                                        978-0763676865                                     Ages 10-15

Keywords:  World War II, world history, war, Social Studies Curriculum, 10 year old, 11 year old, 12 year old, 13 year old, 14 year old, 15 year old



– Large sign posted outside a grocery store in Oakland, the day after Pearl Harbor. The store’s owner, a UC Berkeley graduate and an American of Japanese descent, was soon thereafter “detained,” and his store was shuttered. (A photo of the store and sign is one of many stunning images, captured by legendary photojournalist Dorothea Lange, that are included in this book.)

“I learned that Washington never told a lie,

I learned that soldiers seldom die,

I learned that everybody's free,

And that's what the teacher said to me,

And that's what I learned in school today,

That's what I learned in school.”

– Tom Paxton (1964)

“In actual fact, during the entire course of the war [WWII], there were only ten people in America convicted of spying for Japan. None of them were Japanese.

Remember, language is power. It is possible to take something awful, explain it away calmly, and give it a bland label to try to make it more easily digested or ignored by a general audience. It’s always important to question the meanings of things for yourself.

The WRA [U.S. War Relocation Authority] used similar tactics in documenting the forced removal and life in the ‘camps’ as they were called. It made short films showing serene detainees painting, exuberant young men playing baseball, laughing girls walking to their school where teachers taught a curriculum similar to what they would have had at home. The WRA also hired photographers, including famous photographer Dorothea Lange, to create well-curated images of cooperative, smiling people seeming to enjoy–or at least be making the most of–their current situation. Why? So the WRA could present a palatable view of the incarceration of innocent people to the world. Dorothea Lange did  not capture the positive images the WRA was counting on, so they impounded the bulk of her photographs–including he negatives, prints, and undeveloped film.”


“Right around New Year’s Day, 1945, the Japanese army released an unmanned balloon from the east coast of the main island of Honshu.

It was made of 600 pieces of paper glued together, in all likelihood, by schoolgirls. It measured 33 feet in diameter and when fully inflated held about 19,000 cubic feet of hydrogen. It carried several incendiary bombs.

The balloon rose into the currents of the jet stream and began its long path eastward. It was equipped with an ingenious equilibrium system that spit out hydrogen when it climbed too high and dropped sandbags when it dipped too low. The teardrop-shaped specter crossed 6,200 miles of the Pacific Ocean in two or three days, and finally fell apart on Jan. 4, 1945, landing in an orchard off Vine Hill Road, just east of Forestville.

‘It was 5 or 6, and Dad and I were going out to bring in the goat for the evening,’ said Terence Alberigi, who was 14 at the time and still lives in the area. ‘We heard a whistling sound, and we saw this thing fall from the sky. It hit an apple tree and broke a branch.’

Alberigi, now 91, estimates the contraption landed 150-200 feet from him and his father, Frank. ‘It fell behind a workman’s cabin,’ Terence said. ‘We weren’t that far from it.’

Frank Alberigi’s reaction? ‘What the hell is it?’ his son recalled.”

– Sonoma County Press Democrat (2022)

PEACE IS A CHAIN REACTION begins with a basic overview of the World War II nation combatants and alliances. Sibert medalist Tanya Lee Stone then delves into the infamous incarceration of more than 120,000 American citizens of Japanese descent in ten so-called “internment camps.”

Next, the book details the history of the Japanese balloon bombs. During WWII, school girls were tasked with fabricating these thirty-foot diameter paper balloons. The balloons were armed with incendiary bombs, filled with hydrogen, and released into the jetstream, which guided them across the Pacific Ocean toward the United States. Out of the hundreds of balloons that reached the U.S., one was responsible for fatalities. In May 1945, six people were killed in Bly, Oregon, while on a Saturday morning picnic. Those were the only deaths on the American continent as the result of enemy action during WWII.

These two historical topics are then connected, thanks to the efforts of the late Yuzuru John Takeshita, the  American-born son of Japanese immigrants. Yuzuru spent half of his childhood living in Japan with his grandfather. Sent back to his home in Oregon as the war approached, he, his parents, and his seven American-born siblings were subsequently imprisoned during the war, first at the Topaz facility and then at Tule Lake.

Forty-two years later, Mr. Takeshita, by then a sociology professor, was responsible for bringing together some of the women who, as girls, were forced to help craft the balloons, with the families and friends of those six victims in Oregon. The Japanese women, who were heavy-hearted for having been part of the effort leading to the deaths of the six Americans, hand-folded one thousand paper cranes as a symbol of “one thousand wishes for peace.” The paper cranes, which Mr. Takeshita brought back from Japan, became a centerpiece of a ceremony held  in Bly. Since that ceremony, a number of the now elderly women in Japan and the friends and families in Bly began communicating with and visiting each other, a practice which continued for years.

The well-researched and well-told PEACE IS A CHAIN REACTION is filled with fascinating historical detail, and topped off with the inspired actions of peacemakers to heal hatred and divisions. This is a terrific piece of narrative nonfiction for tweens and teens.

Recommended by:  Richie Partington, MLIS, California USA

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