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The Fences Between Us by Kirby Larson

Posted by Sherry on 10/12/2010 in 1941, 2010, Children's Fiction, Cybil Awards, General, History, World War II |

true-blue, in a dither, mind your own beeswax, old battle-ax, can it, the hoosegow, a good egg, bushed, conniption fit, scuttlebutt, shut-eye, cock-eyed, tough cookie, chitchat, discombobulated, peaked, dreamboat, triple whammy, in a funk, hit the jackpot, jazzed, kitty-corner, don’t take any wooden nickels.

Reading Kirby Larson’s entry into the Dear America series, set in 1941-42, was like revisiting my childhood. Not that I was alive during World War II. But the slang terms and the idioms above that I took from The Fences Between Us were words and phrases that I heard my mother and father use as I was growing up. And they were children during World War II. The language Ms. Larson used in her pretend diary of a 13 year old girl growing up in Seattle was perfect, not overdone as I’ve read in some books that attempt to portray a certain time period, but just enough to make it feel real.

Then, too, I grew up in a Southern Baptist church where we read and studied about “home missionaries” who worked with ethnic churches, and I knew that Ms. Larson’s story of a Caucasian pastor of a Japanese Baptist Church and his daughter, Piper the sometimes reluctant PK, was something that really could have happened. In fact, the afterword to the book says that the story is based on the WW2 experiences of Pastor Emory “Andy” Andrews who “moved from Seattle to Twin Falls, Idaho to be near his congregation, all of whom had been incarcerated in Minidoka“, a Japanese internment camp.

Like all of the books in the Dear America series, the story is written in the form of a diary. Piper’s diary is a gift from one of the members of her church, grandmotherly Mrs Harada, who’s trying to make Piper feel a little better about her brother Hank’s enlistment in the U.S. Navy. Hank enlists in what he thinks is a “peacetime Navy” in November 1941, and he’s soon shipped to Hawaii, a seeming plum of an assignment. December 7, a day that will live in infamy, changes everything for Hank, for Piper, for Piper’s sister Margie, for Piper’s pastor dad, and especially for the members of the Seattle Japanese Baptist Church.

The book isn’t all history. Piper experiences her first romance, and she tries to work out her own feelings about being patriotic while at the same time supporting her friends who are Japanese American and being persecuted and mistreated for no good reason. There are other books for young people about the same time period and about the Japanese “relocation camps”, but I thought this one was a good addition to the category.

Other children’s books about the Japanese American experience during World War II:
Picture Books
Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki.
The Bracelet by Yoshiko Uchida.
So Far From the Sea by Eve Bunting.
Flowers from Mariko by Rick Noguchi and Deneen Jenks.
Fiction
Weedflower by Cynthia Kadohata.
Eyes of the Emperor by Graham Salibury.
The Moon Bridge by Marcia Savin.
Journey Home by Yoshiko Uchida.
Nonfiction
Farewell to Manzanar: A True Story of Japanese American Experience During and After the World War II Internment by Jean Wakatsuki Houston and James Houston.
The Children of Topaz: The Story of the Japanese-American Internment Camp by Michael Tunnell and George Chilcoat.
The Invisible Thread: An Autobiography by Yoshiko Uchida.

The Fences Between Us has been nominated for the 2010 Cybils Awards in the category of Middle Grade Fiction.

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