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Readers Advisory: Dash by Kirby Larson

Scholastic Press, $16.99 hardbound, ISBN-10 0545416353, August 2014

Although Mitsi Kashino and her family are swept up in the wave of anti-Japanese sentiment following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Mitsi never expects to lose her home — or her beloved dog, Dash. But, as World War II rages and people of Japanese descent are forced into incarceration camps, Mitsi is separated from Dash, her classmates, and life as she knows it. The camp is a crowded and unfamiliar place, whose dusty floors, seemingly endless lines, and barbed wire fences begin to unravel the strong Kashino family ties. With the help of a friendly neighbor back home, Mitsi remains connected to Dash in spite of the hard times, holding on to the hope that the war will end soon and life will return to normal. Though they’ve lost their home, will the Kashino family also lose their sense of family? And will Mitsi and Dash ever be reunited?

Despite the fact that it hasn’t been released yet, I’ve already seen Newbery speculation about Dash. I would bet against its chances at that rarefied club simply because the writing is solid but no great landmark of literature, but it’s still a standout.

Mitsi is such a normal, relateable little girl. She loves her friends, her dog Dash, and drawing. Her favorite books are Caddie Woodlawn and the Betsy Tacy series, and her favorite treats include ice cream sodas and trips to the candy shop. She’s an all-American girl, just like the other little girls who were sent with their families to internment camps in the USA during WWII. For Mitsi, the worst part of the mandatory relocation isn’t leaving her home, it’s leaving a member of the family–Dash. In an effort to stop the separation, she even writes to the general in charge of the camp asking if she can please bring her dog, who is small, friendly, and just barks at the mailman. He writes back, telling her everyone has to make sacrifices in war times. Apparently in the case of Japanese-Americans, he and the rest of the bigwigs thought that a home and a way of life was a reasonable sacrifice when you were suspected of spying for the enemy for no reason. Dash goes to live with a kind neighbor and Mitsi’s family goes to live in a horse stall… Well, okay, they don’t live in horse stalls, but some people at the camp do.

Mitsi reacts realistically to camp life, adjusting slowly and grudgingly, mortified by the lack of privacy, the fleas in her hay-sack mattress, and her brother’s new delinquent friends. Their new situation is tough on their family as a unit, and Mitsi looks forward to letters “from Dash” as a connection to home.

Larson presents an accessible look at a bleak and unforgivable moment in American history, all wrapped up in a sweet story of one girl’s love for her dog. Grab your Kleenex. It’s a one-tissue book, but you’ll want that one tissue.

Recommend to: Historical/realistic fiction fans

To buy or not to buy: A first purchase

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