The Girl with the White Flag

YA— Higa tells of her experiences as a seven year old wandering for seven weeks in battle-torn Okinawa in 1945. Her nine-year-old brother was killed beside her as they slept. Separated from her sisters, she survived on her own and then with an elderly, handicapped couple. Although bloody corpses are a common sight, the book is not depressing. Aspects of Oriental culture and religion, such as the importance of family and the relationship of man to nature, can be seen. Sentences are usually short, but they don’t detract from the effectiveness of this moving, autobiographical memoir. Recent immigrants from countries ravaged by war will find it particularly meaningful. All will be touched by Higa’s tenacity under impossible circumstances and will be reminded that children continue to be the worst victims of war. —Claudia Moore, W. T. Woodson High School, Fairfax, VA (
Year of Publication
paperback edition
Number of Pages
Kodansha International
ISSN Number
ISBN-10: 4770029314
Average: 4.5 (11 votes)


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The Girl with the White Flag - Book Review

Field of Interest/Specialty: World Language
Posted On: 12/03/2019

The Girl with the White Flag is a book about a little girl’s journey in Okinawa in WWII. The 7-year-old girl, Tomiko was the youngest child in her family. Her mother died when she was 5. Two of her older brothers went to the war and two older sisters were married and lived elsewhere. So Tomiko lived with her father, two of her teenage sisters and the youngest old brother who was 9 in a village named Shuri. Tomiko and the 3 siblings escaped from their house when the US Army successfully landed on Okinawa and started bombing the villages on the island in 1945. They were hoping to find their father who was gone to send supplies to the Japanese army and hadn’t yet returned.
On their escape journey, Tomiko’s brother, Nini, was killed by the US bombs. Tomiko was then separated from her two sisters. She walked around the Southern part of Okinawa Island for about 25 days without any food. If she was lucky, she was able to find a few sweet potatoes under the ground or some kind of wild plant for liquid juice by chewing the stems. She had to search on dead soldiers' bodies for food. Sometimes she was able to find a piece of candy or two from those dead bodies. But mostly, she was starving. She also had to run away from the bombs and bullets. One day while trying to hide from the dangers, she felt into a cave where she accidentally found a wounded old man and a blind old woman. They shared their limited food with her and took care of her. Soon the American soldiers took over the island, the old woman tore a piece of the fabric from the old man’s white shirt and made a triangle flag. They told Tomiko to get out of the cave holding the flag. The flag would keep her safe and she would survive.
The Girl with the White Flag was a sad and very touching true story. It is an easy book for middle school and high school students to read. The photos in the book were powerful and made the story more vivid.

Excellent primary source/memoir for WWII Social Studies/Japan

Field of Interest/Specialty: Eastern Asia
Posted On: 11/27/2017

The Girl with the White Flag is a compelling first-hand account written by a young survivor of World War II Okinawa. Inspired by a curious image taken by an American Army signal corps photographer, the then seven-year-old subject brought her story to life in this book. Originally published in Japan in 1989, the book has been translated into English and is a briskly-paced, very readable account of Tomiko Higa’s unbelievable story of survival.
She begins with a description of her life as the youngest of nine children in rural Okinawa, outside the capital city of Shuri. She describes her well-respected father who was highly regarded by locals, and recounts her relationship with her mother, who died when Tomika was 6 years old. The beautiful example of her mother’s selfless love of her large family, and the devotion shared by both parents had a strengthening influence on Tomika.
In the months after her mother’s passing, Tomika learns what will later prove to be life-saving skills from her father. She spends more time with him than she would otherwise have, and he teaches her that she can eat raw root vegetables and tomatoes when they are in the fields far from home. Her favorite playmate, her brother Nini, brought her great joy.
As the book progresses, the island is overcome by American infantry (now 1945). Her father disappears after making a food delivery to the Signal Corps that he helps. Air raids and shelling compel her siblings pack food and depart with other refugees, hoping to survive occupation by the enemy.
Early in the weeks that follow, Tomika’s brother Nini is killed lying right next to her in a hole, his warm body and open eyes disguising the fact that a stray bullet had penetrated his skull. Soon after she is separated from her sisters and must now navigate the island and elude danger on her own. The fact that she, at the tender age of seven, sensibly devises a daily plan that includes obtaining food, water and shelter, all while staying under cover, is a marvel.
The driving force of the book to is take us to the moment when the photograph was taken: how did this diminutive, shoeless youngster come to march confidently forward with a make-shift white flag, alone, with shell-shocked Japanese soldiers receding into the background?
Readers will be stunned by her instinct for survival, and the cruelty and kindness she witnessed between April and July of 1945. Her writing is direct, fast-moving and free of pontification. It has an almost journalistic quality in its voice, even though it clearly states the workings of that little girl’s mind. There is a happy ending and she eventually meets the photographer who captured the moment when she emerged from hiding to surrender to American soldiers.
I would highly recommend it for 7th or 8th grade students – it’s a quick read that leaves a vivid imprint. High schoolers can benefit from its brevity and insight as well. My only caution is that some of the violence is graphic for middle school students, even though the reading level is easily within reach of them. The photographs and maps round out the impact of this account and bring this snapshot of a Japanese civilian’s account to life.

Moving memoir

Field of Interest/Specialty: History
Posted On: 11/13/2017

This memoir is a moving and poignant story of survival and courage told from the point of view of a child. The most moving characteristic of this story is how naturally Ms. Tomiko Higa describes the horrors she went through as a seven-year old child. It is well written and middle as well as high school students will be amazed and engaged by this story. I believe it might be too graphic for younger students. This book is a great tool to be used in discussions regarding topics such as determination, war, and pacifism, for instance. It will be an excellent tool in a social studies class too. Some background information on WWII might be necessary for students´understanding.

Unique and compelling perspective on the Battle of Okinawa

Field of Interest/Specialty: Ancient & Modern China
Posted On: 02/12/2017

The Girl with a White Flag offers a unique perspective on Japan’s role in World War II because it is from the perspective of a very young, innocent, and abandoned seven-year-old girl. Tomiko loses her sisters and her brother on the battlefield of Okinawa as they travel away from their home and wander from cave to cave in search of safety and their father. War ravages around her, but miraculously, young Tomiko is able to rely on her own wit and courage to keep herself from enemy fire. She forms a loving bond with an elderly couple hiding in one of the caves, and it is they who piece together the white flag she carries in the famous photo. The novel t is a quick read, which makes it ideal for a middle school audience, especially a struggling reader. Also, the details are easy to picture in one’s mind, and there’s a lot to discuss concerning not only the war- time adventure of this young protagonist, but also as a comparison to the role of children in current wars around the world. The book, however, can be enjoyed by people of any age simply seeking a compelling autobiographical account of the events of the battle.

Review of The Girl With the White Flag by Kelsey Spang

Field of Interest/Specialty: Social Studies
Posted On: 10/20/2015

This novel was an excellent first hand account of a child's experience in WWII Japan. It was an easy read and captured the attention of the reader from the very beginning. This would be a perfect supplementary text in a middle school or even high school social studies classroom studying about WWII. Many students would be amazed at the strong will of the protagonist and author, Tomiko. The book is a short read with only 127 pages which would allow the social studies classroom to use this as a book study. It is written by Tomiko Higa, the actual girl holding the flag in a photo taken by a military photographer soon after the battle of Okinawa. The author wrote this book as a response to the photograph was misrepresented in the media many years later. Higa wanted to make sure her true story was written down for all to understand her experience of the hardships of war. The author made a huge impact on me when she explained her close encounters with death and dying, something children should never have to experience. This is an excellent novel and I suggest it to anyone!

The Girl with the White Flag

Field of Interest/Specialty: ancient civilization and geography
Posted On: 11/23/2014

This book is an excellent primary source for middle and upper grade students. This is an eyewitness account of what it was like to be a refugee literally in a war zone. The main character, Tomiko Higa is a seven year old girl who is thrust into a war zone during WWII in Okinawa, Japan. The story introduces the family and provides background for the young reader to get historical perspective. As a young girl, her father always gave her sage advice but of course, she never took him seriously.This introduction is important as the story unfolds. She shares the death of her mother and the struggle of her father to care for his children. His job is to feed the Signal Corps but then disappears.
As the war moved closer to her home town, she and her sisters and brother found themselves escaping the battle zone around them. They headed south from home to find refuge, stayed in caves during the day and traveled during the night. Her brother was killed while they slept one night on the beach where they had dug holes in the sand for refuge. At one point during the night Tomiko and her sisters were walking along with hundreds of other refugees and she was clinging to her sisters garment but realized that it was just another woman's garment. Frightened, she let go of the small piece of security and now was on her own. Remembering what her father told her "never just copy what other people do,always think things our for yourself" she realizes in order to survive she had to be on her own. She survived by pillaging dead soldiers haversacks and eating sweet potatoes from vegetable fields. The experiences she had are heart-wrenching as she struggles to survive. Her dreams speak to her as she dreams of her parents and her brother.
This is an emotional story of the strength and survival of a seven year old girl who experiences death and destruction around her. Her descriptive words are what draws the reader into her life while she tells of the sounds she hears, the stench she smells,the sights of dead bodies, the injured soldiers grabbing her ankles as she walks by and finally her proud walk with her flag as she is rescued.

Young Adult Literature that Appeals to Most Students

Field of Interest/Specialty: English Literature
Posted On: 02/21/2013

This book is wonderful and would be well suited to middle and upper grades. The text is young adult literature and reads easily while employing vocabulary that would fit well into instruction. The book tells the true story of a seven-year-old girl growing up in Okinawa and wandering through the war zone alone, seeking refuge and solace. Tomiko, the main character and author, tells of her experiences wandering the countryside with her sisters and brother after their mother passes and their father doesn't return home from work. Tomiko describes the death of her brother, which occurred as they slept side by side, her separation from her sisters and then the lonely search to find them and to find safety. Some portions of the book are a bit graphic, so teachers should be mindful of the imagery. However, the accessibility of this book makes it an ideal choice for engaging all readers, exploring the history of WWII from a different perspective and spurring conversation about the mindset of both soldiers and civilians during wartime. I highly, highly recommend this book to teachers, in whole or as excerpts.

The Girl with the White Flag

Field of Interest/Specialty: Chinese Language/ Music
Posted On: 11/15/2010

This book is a remembrance of the author, when she was 6 years old, how she miraculously survived the wartime in Okinawa. The book describes her hometown, the war scene, the fear of the people, the struggle for survival, the emotion of parting and losing loved ones, and death. I felt the book had described the devastation and horrors of the war and the suffering of the people very vividly. One can’t help to feel the hopelessness of the wartime there. At the end of the book an elderly handicapped couple hear the announcement through the loud speaker that the war is over, and that the American soldiers don’t killed civilians. The elderly couple believes the statement and goes through much trouble to make a white flag for the 6 years old to go out from hiding to safety. The elderly couple has demonstrated their trust of the announced statement, their unselfishness and love toward the welfare of the author.
It is an easy reading book, but because of the vivid horrors of the war scene, I would recommend this book for grade 9 and up.

The Girl with the White Flag

Field of Interest/Specialty: gifted
Posted On: 10/02/2010

This is a moving, and at times shocking, story of seven-year-old Tomiko Higa's struggle to survive the World War II attack on Okinawa. She and her siblings fled, and eventually she was alone, trying to survive fire bombings and lack of food and water, and finally surrendering to American soldiers while carrying a small white flag. I would not use this book for students younger than 7th grade, due to the graphic descriptions. It is a remarkable story of determination in the face of impossible odds.

Review of Girl with the White Flag

Field of Interest/Specialty: Reading
Posted On: 05/10/2010

This book is a memoir of Tomiko Higa.
Seven year old Tomiko Higa’s world changes when she and her siblings must flee their home after fighting intensifies in Okinawa. With their father’s words engrained in their heads to leave their home if he didn’t return from his trip from he nearby village, the children set off in search of safety. When Nina (her brother) gets shot, and Tomika gets separated from her sisters, Tomiko finds the courage and strength to persevere. She uses her inner resources, words of wisdom from her father, locates food off dead soldiers, uses animals to help guide her to food and water to survive, all the while searching for her sisters. When Tomiko stumbles across a cave where an elderly husband and wife are hiding, she uses their knowledge to help her keep going on. When a loudspeaker announcement is heard that the Japanese have surrendered, the couple hastily make a white flag for Tomiko to use as she exited the cave. Her picture was taken by a U.S. soldier, and the sisters are eventually reunited.
Time jumps ahead. Tomiko sees the photograph of herself in a book. She ultimately seeks out the photographer, and eventually brings closure to that episode of her life.
How to Use The Girl with the White Flag in the classroom:
This memoir is well written. Students will be amazed at the qualities this little girl has for surviving. The Girl with the White Flag could be read independently by middle schoolers but could also be used by high school students as well. Some background knowledge of World War II (Pacific Theater) would be helpful for the students’ comprehension, but even without it, the manner in which the book is written allows students to grasp the concept of what is occurring. Additionally, it could lend itself as a great read aloud; it offers a lot of opportunities for discussion. Lastly, with the photographs that are included in the book, the memoir becomes even more real.
Possible discussion topics (critical thinking) for students
1. Picture yourself at seven. Do you think you would have the ability to fend for yourself? Why was Tomiko able to do this?
2. Unlike other shiding in caves, the elderly couple (“grandpa and grandma”) were very kind to Tomiko. Why do you think this was so?
3. Adult Tomiko did not share with anyone that she had been photographed. When she and her husband saw this captured on a film segment, and he mentioned that the little girl looked liked her, she finally admitted she was the little girl. Why had Tomiko concealed this information all these years?
4. When Tomiko met up with her sisters, she was somewhat reserved. What do you think made her respond this way?
5. In just a short amount of time (April until June), Tomiko faced many hardships because of the war. Speculate how Tomiko was able to do this at such a young age (loss of mother, father not returned, death of brother,
separated from sisters).