Dash (book)


Title Dash
Author Kirby Larson
Original Publisher Scholastic Press
Original Publication Date 2014
Pages 256

Dash, Kirby Larson's book for 4-6 grade readers, tells the story of 11-year-old Mitsi Kashino and how the love for her dog Dash gives her strength while she and her family are sent to an incarceration camp.

A few weeks after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Mitsi is excited for things to "go back to normal" once she returns to school in Bainbridge, Washington after the Christmas holidays. Instead, Mitsi's two best friends Mags and Judy snub her and Mitsi is hurt and confused. Uneasy with the undercurrent of tension, nasty notes, and racial slurs coming from her classmates, Mitsi finds comfort in Dash's companionship. She wonders how humans can treat her so cruelly just for being Japanese, when Dash remains as loyal to her as ever.

While walking home alone one day, Mitsi is chased and bullied by middle school boys who chant "Remember Pearl Harbor!" over and over. She falls and the boys kick her books and new artist sketch pad into the mud. A stranger, Mrs. Bowker, fends the boys off with a broom and helps Mitsi gather her things. In gratitude, Mitsi draws Mrs. Bowker a picture of her garden and they become fast friends. Mitsi shares her painful secret that her best friends avoid her at school. Mrs. Bowker shares that she used to live in Montana and that she has always felt guilty for not defending her German friends, the Schmidts, when they were run out of town during the anti-German hysteria in World War I. Tearfully, Mrs. Bowker says, "Even the kindest of us is capable of cruelty. And I was cruel for not speaking up back then."[1]

Soon the announcement calling for the assembly of Japanese Americans is posted around town. Mitsi is horrified to learn that Dash would not be allowed to come with them. Inspired by a class assignment, Mitsi writes to General DeWitt, the man in charge of the Japanese American exodus. She tries to convince him that Dash is also a member of the Kashino family. General DeWitt writes back a curt message saying that he sends his regrets that pets are not allowed, but that "we must all make sacrifices in times of war."[2] To Mitsi's great relief, Mrs. Bowker agrees to care for Dash in her absence.

The Kashinos are sent to "Camp Harmony" (the ironic nickname of the temporary detention camp built at the Puyallup fairgrounds outside of Seattle) and Mitsi's main source of happiness is the letters she and Mrs. Bowker exchange; Mrs. Bowker "writes" as Dash. Over her many trips to the post office, Mitsi begins to overcome her shyness with strangers. When she receives the picture Mrs. Bowker took of Mitsi and Dash on their last day at Bainbridge, she is overjoyed and shows the picture to the many people in the camp. She soon befriends a bubbly girl her age named Debbie, who suffers from mysterious periodic depressive spells.

After a while, they all are uprooted from "Camp Harmony" and make the dusty trip to Camp Minidoka. Mitsi and her friends adjust to the new and old challenges of camp life, but Dash continues to be at the forefront in Mitsi's heart. She wonders when the war will end and if she can ever be reunited with her beloved dog.

An author's note follows the story in which Kirby Larson credits the book Strawberry Days by Dave Neiwert for introducing her to the real Mitsi and Dash: Mitsue Shiraishi and her dog Chubby.

Authored by Jan Kamiya

Footnotes

  1. Kirby Larson, Dash (New York: Scholastic Press, 2014), 52.
  2. Larson, Dash, 76.