Dash

Dash9780545416351_p0_v1_s260x420Dash

Kirby Larson, Author

Scholastic Press, Fiction, Aug, 26, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Japanese-American Children, Evacuation, Relocation, Concentration Camps,  Dogs, WW II

Synopsis: After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Mitsi Kashino is separated from her home, friends, schoolmates, community and her beloved dog, Dash. There is a lot of fear in America. Because Mitsi is of American-Japanese descent, she and her family are forced to pack their suitcases and are evacuated from their home.  They are relocated to two different concentration camps that are overcrowded, unhealthy, and surrounded by tall fences. Mitsi is forced to leave her dog, Dash, with Mrs. Bowker, an older neighbor who cares for him. Mrs. Bowker sends Mitsi weekly letters from Dash. Mitsi’s strong family ties and her letters from Dash give her hope that one day she will be reunited with her pet.

Why I like this book: Kirby Larson has created a strong heart-felt connection for her readers with Mitsi’s attachment to Dash. Dash adds an authentic touch to this deeply emotional story about a dark period in America’s history. Larson shows Mitsi going to school, playing with her two best friends until the attack occurs on Pearl Harbor occurs. Mitsi feels the prejudice from her best friends who begin to bully her with facial expressions, racial slurs and nasty notes. Larson’s characters are well-developed. Mitsi’s voice remains determined  and strong even when she’s struggling and balancing so many issues. She finds solace in her artwork and writing.  Larson’s depiction of life at the internment camps is very realistic with over-crowded living conditions, long lines, heat, dirt, fleas, smelly latrines,  and minimal food (oatmeal and Vienna Sausages). The plot is engaging, heartbreaking, and packed with adventure. Larson’s powerful story is based on the true story of Mitsue “Mitsi” Shiraishi, who loved her dog, Chubby and left him behind with a neighbor, who wrote the real “Mitsi” letters from Chubby. I highly recommend this important story about the resilience of the human spirit.

Kirby Larson is the acclaimed author of the 2007 Newbury Honor book Hattie Big Sky; its sequel, Hattie Ever After; The Friendship Doll; Dear America: The Fences Between Us; and Duke.  Visit Kirby Larson at her website.

Sylvia and Aki by Winifred Conkling

Sylvia & Aki9781582463452_p0_v1_s260x420Sylvia & Aki: Friendship Knows No Barriers

Winifred Conkling, Author

Tricycle Press, Random House imprint, Fiction, 2011

Suitable for Ages: 9-12

Themes:  Race Relations, Segregation in Education, Japanese American Relocations, Mexican Americans, Friendship

Synopsis:  Two third-grade students are caught up in the fear that engulfed our country during WW II.  Aki Munemitsu and her family are Japanese American citizens who own an asparagus farm in Westminster, CA.  When war breaks out they are sent to an internment camp in Poston, AZ.  Sylvia Mendez and her family rent the home vacated by Aki’s family and run the farm.  Sylvia discovers a Japanese doll hidden in the back of  her closet and wonders about the girl who owns it and her life in the camp.  Sylvia is excited about attending Westminster School, until she is not allowed to enroll in the town school and told that she must attend the run-down Mexican School across town.  Like Aki, Sylvia faces a fear of a different kind —  the fear of racial integration in America.  Both girls face discrimination.  Sylvia and her father challenge the school district in California court system.  Their landmark case eventually ends school segregation nationally.

Why I like this book:  This is an important story to tell because of the fear that pervaded our country during WW II and the social injustices that occurred.  Winifred Conkling has written a touching and true story about the lives of two girls who question their identities as Americans, their own self-worth and come to grips with the prejudices of the country they love and call home.  The author writes their story in alternating chapters, which fit together very nicely and focus on race relations in America at that time.  Both girls were strong, determined, brave and stood up for what they believed.  This is a great discussion book for the classroom.

The story of Sylvia and Aki fits in nicely with the theme of International Day of the Girl Child on October 11 which is a day “to recognize girls’ rights and the unique  challenges girls face around the world.”  Sylvia challenged the California court system laws on segregation. I will review a picture book related to this special day on Friday.

Resources:  The author opens  with a note about word choice and the terms used in the 1940s.  There is a lengthy afterword about the Mendez and Munemitsu families, and a discussion about segregation in America.  The girls are close friends today.  Please visit Winifred Conkling at her website.  There is a teacher’s guide for the book.  Another important discussion would be about girl power.  Encourage students to talk about what girls can do to help each other locally and globally.  Talk about the differences in education for girls in first and third worlds.