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Friday, October 22, 2010

Dear Kirby Larson, I Love You

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

If you've read Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson, you know how well the author brings history to life for young readers. It's no wonder, then, that she has been chosen to kick-off the return of Scholastic's beloved Dear America series which was originally published between 1996 and 2004. Written in diary format, the books delve into America's history by allowing readers to see events through the eyes of children and teens like themselves. With upcoming books by reknowned writers like Lois Lowry, Kathryn Lasky, Karen Hesse, and more, the series is sure to win the hearts of a whole new generation of historical fiction fans.

Larson starts things off with The Diary of Piper Davis: The Fences Between Us, the story of a 13-year-old girl whose world turns upside down when Japan attacks Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Before that fateful day, Piper's life is as typical as any other American teenager's. If that teenager happens to be a preacher's kid whose father expects her to be a Goody Two Shoes who gets high marks in school, never paints her lips with Tangee lipstick (even if she bought it with her own money), and wakes up at the crack of dawn to deliver Thanksgiving baskets to the needy. It's not that tough, really, it's just that she wouldn't mind a little freedom once in awhile. She also wouldn't mind having her father around more often. Piper admires his devotion to the congregation of Seattle Japanese Baptist Church, but sometimes, she wishes he would spend less time doing the Lord's work and more time paying attention to his family. Ever since Piper's brother, Hank, enlisted in the Navy, it's just been Piper and her older sister, who's always busy with homework or tending house.

Then, the radio blares terrible news: Japan has bombed Pearl Harbor. Not only are American ships sunk, but thousands of lives are lost, and the U.S. is forced to enter WWII. With all the chaos, it's days before the Davis' hear any word of Hank. In the meantime, things are getting difficult for the residents of Seattle's Japanese community, many of whom attend the Davis' church. There have always been people who looked down on the Japanese, but now they are getting yelled at, injured, and refused service at shops and restaurants. Piper can sort of understand people's anger - after all, her brother was on the U.S.S. Arizona - yet, these are people she's known all her life, good people. Why are they being treated so badly?

Things only get worse when the U.S. government decides to "relocate" anyone of Japanese descent. Piper's friends are being taken away, her father's congregation has dwindled to nothing, and worst of all, he wants to follow his flock to the internment camps. Piper hates the injustice as much as her dad does, but isn't moving to the middle of Idaho to perform his duties a little extreme? Can't he do good from the comfort of the Davises Seattle home? Piper can't stand the thought of leaving her friends and family behind - can she convince her father to let her stay in Washington or will she learn firsthand what it's like for the Japanese people incarcerated at Minidoka?

The Diary of Piper Davis: The Fences Between Us is a quick-moving, compelling story that will instruct, enlighten and inspire. Piper's a believable (though fictional) girl, her character a perfect blend of strength and weakness. The diary-style novel allows an intimate glimpse at what life must have been like in the early 40s, making the events feel contemporary even though they happened almost 70 years ago. The fact that Pastor Davis is based on a real person (Reverend Emery "Andy" Andrews) makes the story all the more incredible. Although there are a few details which are never explained in the book (like why Davis [Andrews] was leading a Japanese church in the first place), I enjoyed this satisfying middle grade novel.

(Readalikes: Earlier Dear America titles; historical novels in the American Girl series; also reminded me a little of Jericho Walls by Kristi Collier)

Grade: B

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for intense scenes and mature themes (racism, war, death, etc.)

To the FTC, with love: I received an ARC of The Diary of Piper Davis: The Fences Between Us from the generous folks at Scholastic. Thank you!


  1. Wow. I didn't know about that series. I bet my daughter would love those.

  2. My daughter would love this book and series, too. I'll have to see if my library has them.

    I'll link to your review on War Through the Generations.


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