For award-winning children’s writer Kirby Larson, history isn’t told in the machinations of politics and the glory of military action, but rather in the everyday stories of people who lived in fascinating and difficult times.
From the prairies of Montana to the deserts of Iraq, the despair of Hurricane Katrina and the glamor of post-WWI San Francisco, Larson teaches history with a compelling narrative rich in detail.
In several recent novels for young readers, Larson has been exploring World War II — especially the imprisonment of thousands of American citizens of Japanese descent in the months following the 1941 raid on Pearl Harbor, an attack that forced America into a war that had been raging away from its shores for more than two years.
“To me, it was this shocking piece of American history that people aren’t aware of,” said Larson, a Sehome High and Western Washington University graduate. She’ll be reading from her newest book, “Dash,” at 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 18, in the downstairs Readings Gallery at Village Books.
“Their lives were forever changed,” Larson said. “Some lost their homes there are so many of those stories that are so important to tell. This is a time period that really puzzles me.”
Her Village Books appearance is a fundraiser for the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial, where an effort is underway to build a visitor center.
“Dash” focuses on a young girl who becomes separated from her beloved dog in an internment camp. In a way, it’s a companion to “Duke,” the story of a boy who gives his German shepherd to Dogs for Defense, a World War II program in which Americans gave their pets to the military to act as sentries, mine sniffers and for other tasks.
She’s also written “The Fences Between Us,” based on the true story of a minister from Seattle’s Japantown who followed his flock to the Minidoka relocation center in southern Idaho in 1942.
“(World War II) was a pretty profound time in recent American history,” she said. “We’re losing all those people now.”
Her stories for young readers — especially 2007’s “Hattie Big Sky,” which won a Newbery Honor, chronicle what it was like to live in a particular era. Copious research helps young readers understand her stories in a historical context. Both her award-winning “Two Bobbies: A True Story of Hurricane Katrina, Friendship and Survival,” and “Nubs: The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine & a Miracle,” are Amazon bestsellers.
“There are so many terrific stories of really brave individuals,” she said. “Those stories were not told because they weren’t famous.”
Though Larson often places her characters in frightening situations, they usually shine with optimism.
“I feel a responsibility to the middle reader,” she said. “ I want the story to end with hope. (But) I try not to tie everything up into a neat package.”