Title: Hotaka: Through My Eyes – Natural Disaster Zones
Author: John Heffernan
Series Title: Through my eyes – Natural Disasters. Series Editor: Lyn White
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Downloadable Teacher’s Notes can be accessed through this link. Notes include links to specific curriculum areas and cross curriculum priorities. PDF file automatically downloads.
RRP: $16.99

The mantra ‘Prepare to die’ of the demon-wizard puppet had an unexpected double meaning when Hotaka and his best friend Takeshi watched the matinee show on March 11, 2011, for it was soon after this that the earthquake occurred. Hotaka, Takeshi and their class escape and run for higher ground just before the tsunami crashes its way into the town. When Hotaka and Takeshi go to get help for their class they see many others in dire need. Unfortunately, just as the two boys save a group of elderly people, Takeshi is lost to the water. After Hotaka returns home he continues to struggle with his loss, and the losses of so many other people, for some time. Hotaka meets Osamu immediately after Osamu has seen both his parents’ bodies. With nowhere to go Osamu goes home with Hotaka, where his mother is preparing their house for others who have become homeless.

Fast-forward to 2014, and Hotaka, Osamu and their new friend, Sakura, are in junior high school. Hotaka, with his teacher and the help of his friends, is preparing a memorial ceremony to celebrate the Tōhoku culture. Sakura, like Osamu, is an orphan. She has moved to Omori-wan to live with her aunt and uncle. The three are busy asking guests to appear at the celebration, but they all have their individual memories and demons to deal with. Hotaka lives with the guilt of losing his best friend and Grandfather, while Sakura becomes increasingly frustrated with the nonsensical waste of public money on building a wall that may, or may not, protect from future tsunamis. Her actions cause many in the town to take notice, while at the same time putting her family and friends’ lives in danger.

Part of the Through My Eyes – Natural Disaster Zones series, John Heffernan has taken an interesting approach when dealing with the effects of a devastating tsunami. The novel begins immediately with the tsunami, allowing the reader to be thrust into the devastation and loss of Hotaka and his community. Not all questions are answered immediately as to the fate of some of Hotaka’s family members, persuading the reader to continue. Heffernan places the reader firmly in Hotaka’s world, both emotionally and physically. The characters are well developed and show true grit and determination in overcoming such a disaster.

I will be sharing this many times over with my grade seven and eight students for years to come, and also with the Geography students when they study natural disasters. It looks at various aspects, from the personal and physical devastation of a tsunami, to the rebuilding of a community in both spirit and infrastructure. This book is also suitable for a younger audience, and would make a good Readers’ Cup novel.


Read from beginning of chapter 1, page 3, to end paragraph 4, page 5 “…thrown to the floor”.

This is the earthquake that caused the devastating tsunami of 2011. Hotaka, Takeshi and their class head for higher ground as the tsunami-warning siren rings. Hotaka and Takeshi convince their teacher they should go for help.

Read from paragraph 4, page 12 “The boys bowed to their teacher…” to paragraph 4, page 15 “…hanging for dear life.”

The boys go the elderly residents to try and save them.

Read from paragraph 4, page 16 “The process was slow and difficult…” to end of paragraph 7, page 17 “…the silent unrevealing water.”

Hotaka survives but there is no sign of Takeshi. Hotaka has lost loved ones but still has his mother and home, and they help many less fortunate than themselves.

The book quickly jumps to 2014, when Hotaka and his junior high school friends are helping organise a memorial ceremony. His friend Sakura discovers corruption among some politicians and companies benefiting from the recovery process, and her actions put many in danger, just as some are beginning to heal after the devastation of the tsunami.

Many thanks to Allen & Unwin for supplying this book for review.