“Dash,” by Kirby Larson. Scholastic Press. $16.99.
This sobering children’s read gives new meaning to separation anxiety and human-animal bond.
An innocent, young Japanese girl, her cherished dog Dash and Japanese concentration camps in Washington and Idaho following the outbreak of World War II combine for a lively and flavorful historical narrative.
Larson, a Seattle area author, has written the perfect school book-report volume here that blends history, war, pets and family over 240 pages plus.
The Seattle-based story begins prior to the Pearl Harbor bombing but takes a drastic pivot after the attack with Mitzi and other Japanese Americans in the neighborhood quickly becoming targets for everything from vandalism to threats and verbal abuse.
While Mitzi’s relations with several friends sour, her steadying psychological crutch through the tormented pathway is her beloved Dash.
Eventually Mitzi and her family are sent to Camp Harmony, an internment camp for area Japanese Americans, but despite a written plea to the commanding general she is forced to leave Dash behind. But what to do? She does, however, find a last-minute solution that eventually proves to be a link to the outside world.
Day-to-day camp conditions produce plenty of angst and anticipation for everyone. In fact, the highlight of the day for Mitzi is mail – both sending and receiving, the latter from Dash, which tantalize and teeter.
While Mitzi is hopeful of a quick release and return home that doesn’t happen. In fact, things take a challenging twist when everyone is sent to Camp Minidoka, Idaho, a three-day train ride away.
Mitizi’s neighbor and Dash’s caretaker, Mrs. Bowker, continues to offer the youngster hope with regular mailings, one of which includes a special locket with a photo of Dash on one side and Mitzi on the other, which Mitzi had sent the woman funds to purchase. “Now I can keep Dash with me all the time,” she beams when opening the package.
But what’s better than the real thing for producing the much-needed psychological salve and a surprise upbeat ending?
A tightly wound narrative, “Dash” keeps the worldly big picture in a rich cultural context while complementing it with a unique lens on family dynamics and the resilience of youth.