Monday, September 6, 2010

Kirby Larson Brings the Dear America Series Back

I was a huge fan of the Dear America Series by Scholastic. It was almost an obsession of mine to read each and every one of the diaries and to make them available to the students in my classroom. I read the Diary of Remember Patience Whipple, a Pilgrim girl on the Mayflower, to my class every year. I never told them whether it was fiction or non-fiction, but we had the discussion many times during the reading. Finally, in the end I would show them that it was historical fiction and we would talk about the historical parts of the story. That's how well written these journals are, the question is always there, fiction or non-fiction?

When they stopped producing new diaries, I was very disappointed, so imagine my excitement when I found out that Scholastic is going to re-release the Dear America Series in a new format. In addition to that there are going to be new diaries, starting with The Diary of Piper Davis: The Fences Between Us: Seattle, Washington, 1941. And to add more exciting news to the already beyond exciting news, one of my favorite authors, Kirby Larson, was chosen to write it!

Piper Davis is the daughter of a Baptist minister who serves in a Japanese Baptist church in Seattle. Pastor Davis is a single dad who is doing the best he can and has high expectations for his youngest daughter Piper. The journal starts in November 1941 when the biggest things in Piper's life are boys, clothes and not being able to wear Tangee lipstick to school. It all changes when her big brother Hank enlists in the Navy and is shipped to Pearl Harbor after basic training. Everything seems swell in Piper's world until December 7 and the tragic attack at Pearl Harbor.

Between the secrecy of the Navy not publishing information about survivors, her father's strict beliefs and the changing attitudes toward the Japanese congregation, Piper's world becomes a lot more complicated. She is torn between her friends who say that all Japanese, even American born, are a threat, and her father's congregation, some of whom have been like family to her growing up. Even her father is caught up in the drama as he fights for the rights of his congregation, is threatened by locals who are afraid of the Japanese and travels to speak out for the rights of all Americans. Eventually, and in spite of Pastor Davis' efforts all Japanese are sent to military holding camps. Most of the families from the church are sent to a camp in Idaho and in the end Pastor Davis chooses to follow them. Piper's world, in her opinion, has come to an end when they pack up and move to a desolate place in the middle of no where.

It is here that Piper grows up. She learns the real meaning of friendship, sacrifice, and family. Kirby Larson, as always, does an incredible job of creating a strong female character. Piper is portrayed as a regular teen age girl who enjoys photography and being with her friends. As the story goes on she slowly becomes more complex, not just questioning her father's authority but also the opinions and attitudes of her friends at school. I really like how this growth is shown through the subjects of her photography. Over time her subjects go from friends and family choosing photos that show the emotion and hardship suffered by her Japanese friends.

This book is going to be for my more mature readers, not because of anything inappropriate, but because some of the themes and concepts of the historical events. I'm very excited that Scholastic has decided to add new diaries to the series, and they couldn't have started in a better way!


  1. I will be presenting on teaching/library related blogs at my local ed resource center on Sept. 17th. I would like to be able to use a screen shot of your homepage in the presentation--and as that presentation may be posted wanted to ask!

    You can check out my VERY new blog (what was I thinking starting this one two weeks before school started) to get to know me a little.

    And with either answer thanks. I love reading your posts!

  2. Hi Ms. O,

    Bill and I would be delighted to have you share a screen shot of our home page. Thanks so much for asking and best of luck with the presentation.

    Your very new blog looks great! :)