Throwback Thursday — Code Word Courage

Welcome to Throwback Thursday! Today I am sharing one of my favorite WWII historical fiction novels by Author Kirby Larson. This exceptional book features the Navajo Code Talker program of WWII and diverse characters from the Navajo Nation and Mexico.

 

CODE WORD COURAGE

About the Book

Billie has lived with her great-aunt ever since her mom passed away and her dad left. Billie’s big brother, Leo, is about to leave, too, for the warfront. But first, she gets one more weekend with him at the ranch.

Billie’s surprised when Leo brings home a fellow Marine from boot camp, Denny. She has so much to ask Leo — about losing her best friend and trying to find their father — but Denny, who is Navajo, or Diné, comes with something special: a gorgeous, but injured, stray dog. As Billie cares for the dog, whom they name Bear, she and Bear grow deeply attached to each other.
 
Soon enough, it’s time for Leo and Denny, a Navajo Code Talker, to ship out. Billie does her part for the war effort, but she worries whether Leo and Denny will make it home, whether she’ll find a new friend, and if her father will ever come back. Can Bear help Billie — and Denny — find what’s most important?
 
A powerful tale about unsung heroism on the WWII battlefield and the home front.

Amazon



My Thoughts About This Book:

I was drawn to this book by a review I read. This book has three elements I always look for in middle-grade books before I begin reading them:  Historical fiction–this one is set during World War II. Diverse characters–this one features Navajo and Mexican characters portrayed positively and in important roles.Animals as inspirational supporting characters–this one has a dog.  

The other component I look for as I am reading the book are the feelings of empathy and compassion and the maturing of a character through lessons learned. These elements can only be garnered by a skilled author. 

This book possesses all of these traits. 

What sets this story apart from others is Kirby Larson’s awesome writing style. She seems to flawlessly place the right words on the page at just the right tempo and in just the right order. Her setting and characters are well-developed. Her novel is obviously well-researched from my reading of non-fiction about this time period.

I particularly liked the way the main character, Billie, reached beyond her lonely, mournful life to touch others through her kindness and friendship. In particular, she forges a friendship with a boy from Mexico whose father works on Billie’s great-aunt’s ranch. Tito is wise beyond his years, in my opinion, when it comes to his emotional intelligence regarding being bullied by the so-called popular kids in school.

Another exceptional aspect of this book is the World War II depiction of military life and the battle scenes the author so carefully researched.  Billie’s close relationship with her older brother, Leo, is admirable. 

Finally, the inclusion of Denny, a Navajo friend of Leo’s, and the abandoned dog he brought home to Billie’s house enrich the plot ten-fold. The tribute to the ‘Navajo Code Talker’ program in WWII and the courageous men who participated in this ground-breaking mission was intriguing.

I believe this is a story that should not be missed by middle-grade readers. It would also make a worthwhile read-aloud in class or during a family’s reading time. So many great life lessons are taught in its pages.

Highly recommended to middle-grade readers, fans of historical and military fiction, fans of animal-centered fiction, and fans of literature which includes diverse populations as strong characters.

I borrowed this book from the Children’s Section of the local public library.

Below is a link to the Goodreads page listing all four installments in the ‘Dogs of World War II’ series by this author with links to their book blurbs.

LINK TO ‘DOGS OF WORLD WAR II’ SERIES ON GOODREADS


Kirby Larson

About the Author

Kirby Larson went from history-phobe to history fanatic while writing the 2007 Newbery Honor Book, HATTIE BIG SKY. Her passion for historical fiction is reflected in titles such as THE FENCES BETWEEN US, THE FRIENDSHIP DOLL, as well as the sequel to HATTIE BIG SKY, HATTIE EVER AFTER, and her two latest titles, DUKE–which was nominated for 5 state Young Reader Choice awards as well as being a finalist for the Washington State Book Award– and DASH–which has garnered two starred reviews, a NAPPA Gold Award and a Capitol Choices nomination.

In 2006, Kirby began a collaboration with her good friend Mary Nethery resulting in two award-winning nonfiction picture books: TWO BOBBIES: A TRUE STORY OF HURRICANE KATRINA, FRIENDSHIP AND SURVIVAL, and NUBS: THE TRUE STORY OF A MUTT, A MARINE AND A MIRACLE.

Kirby lives in Kenmore, Washington with her husband, Neil, and Winston the Wonder Dog. When she’s not reading or writing Kirby enjoys beach combing, bird watching, and traveling. She owns a tiara and is not afraid to use it.

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Throwback Thursday — Dash

Welcome to Throwback Thursday this final Thursday of May, 2020. In recognition of Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, I would like to share a poignant middle-grade historical novel about the Japanese American internment camps in the United States during World War II.

About the Book

What happens when a war comes between a girl and her dog?

New from Newbery Honor author Kirby Larson, the moving story of a Japanese-American girl who is separated from her dog upon being sent to an incarceration camp during WWII.

Although Mitsi Kashino and her family are swept up in the wave of anti-Japanese sentiment following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Mitsi never expects to lose her home—or her beloved dog, Dash. But, as World War II rages and people of Japanese descent are forced into incarceration camps, Mitsi is separated from Dash, her classmates, and life as she knows it.

The camp is a crowded and unfamiliar place, whose dusty floors, seemingly endless lines, and barbed wire fences begin to unravel the strong Kashino family ties. With the help of a friendly neighbor back home, Mitsi remains connected to Dash in spite of the hard times, holding on to the hope that the war will end soon and life will return to normal. Though they’ve lost their home, will the Kashino family also lose their sense of family? And will Mitsi and Dash ever be reunited?

Amazon



My Thoughts About This Book:

I am a huge fan of Kirby Larson’s historical fiction. Her books are well-written and well-researched. Her characters are multi-dimensional and her settings are so well-developed they become like characters in and of themselves.

A couple of summers ago I read her Young Adult historical series, ‘Hattie Big Sky’ and ‘Hattie Ever After’. Those stories are set in 1917 in Montana. I read and reviewed her fourth book in this ‘Dogs of World War II’ series, ‘Code Word Courage’.

One of the things I enjoyed about each of these books, including ‘Dash’, is the author’s ability to capture a reader’s attention and interest right from the start! In this book, we are introduced to the main character, Mitsi Kashino, and her beloved dog, Dash, in the first paragraph of the book. The story opens in Washington state right after Christmas, 1941.

Upon returning to school after the Christmas break Mitsi and the other students of Japanese descent are met with anger, resentment, and hatred from the majority of their classmates. The bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, fueled these negative feelings about the Japanese in the United States.

I believe this theme is an important historical issue to introduce to and discuss with middle-grade readers because we live in a diverse culture. Respect and acceptance are keys to thriving in our society.  I feel fiction can reach out to youngsters and touch their hearts in ways merely telling them to show ‘respect’ or ‘be kind’ cannot.

Throughout this moving story Mitsi navigates the serious issues of shame, prejudice, loss of friends, evacuation from her home, and internment in two Japanese relocation camps. She meets many cruel and insensitive people along the way. I found the author’s portrayal of these unkind individuals to be realistic and frankly, heart-wrenching.

The depiction of the depolorable conditions at the internment camps is accurate as far as my research into and knowledge of this subject matter. Family life at the camps was not easy for the internees because of the rustic/crude living conditions, lack of privacy, unfamiliar food, and severe weather conditions. I could almost taste the grit from the dust blowing around everywhere and smell the horrible odors in the latrines as described by this author.

A theme in this book which I especially appreciated was the kindness and understanding of several of the surrounding characters who were not internees.

Miss Wyatt, Mitsi’s school teacher, is a lovely person who does whatever she can to make Mitsi’s situation a little more bearable for the eleven-year-old. Mrs. Bowker, the Kashina family’s widowed neighbor, is loving and compassionate toward Mitsi and models what being a good neighbor and friend is all about. Some of the workers at the camps go out of their way to smile at and treat the internees with kindness. And then there is Dash, Mitsi’s loyal best friend! The two shared a deep bond and were both heartbroken when they were separated when the Kashina’s were evacuated.

Highly recommended for teachers, librarians, and parents/grandparents. Fans of World War II/American/California history and stories with diverse characters will appreciate this richly-layered story, too.

To learn more about this subject, follow this link to the United states national parks service website: 

Japanese American Confinement


Kirby Larson

About the Author

Kirby Larson went from history-phobe to history fanatic while writing the 2007 Newbery Honor Book, HATTIE BIG SKY. Her passion for historical fiction is reflected in titles such as THE FENCES BETWEEN US, THE FRIENDSHIP DOLL, as well as the sequel to HATTIE BIG SKY, HATTIE EVER AFTER, and her two latest titles, DUKE–which was nominated for 5 state Young Reader Choice awards as well as being a finalist for the Washington State Book Award– and DASH–which has garnered two starred reviews, a NAPPA Gold Award and a Capitol Choices nomination.

In 2006, Kirby began a collaboration with her good friend Mary Nethery resulting in two award-winning nonfiction picture books: TWO BOBBIES: A TRUE STORY OF HURRICANE KATRINA, FRIENDSHIP AND SURVIVAL, and NUBS: THE TRUE STORY OF A MUTT, A MARINE AND A MIRACLE.

Kirby lives in Kenmore, Washington with her husband, Neil, and Winston the Wonder Dog. When she’s not reading or writing Kirby enjoys beach combing, bird watching, and traveling. She owns a tiara and is not afraid to use it.

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Throwback Thursday — Indian Shoes

throwbackthursday

Welcome to Throwback Thursday, Reader Friends! Today we’re featuring a story collection by Native American Author, Cynthia Leitich Smith. Indian Shoes was originally released in 2002 by Harper Collins. The book is recommended for children ages 7 and older.


 

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About the Book

What do Indian shoes look like, anyway? Like beautiful beaded moccasins…or hightops with bright orange shoelaces?

Ray Halfmoon prefers hightops, but he gladly trades them for a nice pair of moccasins for his Grampa. After all, it’s Grampa Halfmoon who’s always there to help Ray get in and out of scrapes — like the time they are forced to get creative after a homemade haircut makes Ray’s head look like a lawn-mowing accident.

This collection of interrelated stories is heartwarming and laugh-out-loud funny. Cynthia Leitich Smith writes with wit and candor about what it’s like to grow up as a Seminole-Cherokee boy who is just as happy pounding the pavement in windy Chicago as rowing on a take in rural Oklahoma.

Kirkus declared: “A very pleasing first-chapter book from its funny and tender opening salvo to its heartwarming closer. An excellent choice for younger readers.” School Library Journal hailed: “a good book for any elementary-aged reluctant reader and a necessity for indigenous children everywhere.” INDIAN SHOES has been named a Notable Children’s Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies, a finalist for the Texas Institute of Letters Award, to the 2003 Best Children’s Books of the Year, Bank Street College of Education; and to Choices 2003, Cooperative Children’s Book Center. It also was named to the NEA Native American Book List and the 2004-2005 Crown List. Most recently, INDIAN SHOES was chosen as the featured intermediate title for “Read On, Wisconsin!” (an online book club for students sponsored by the state’s First Lady) in March, 2005.

Amazon


My Thoughts About This Book:

Have you ever read a story collection where you told yourself as you finished reading each story, ‘That story was my favorite!’, only to read the next story to find yourself saying, ‘No, that one was definitely my favorite!’?

This is exactly what happened to me when I read this delightful collection of six short stories featuring young Ray Halfmoon and his grandfather, Grampa Halfmoon.

The pair currently live in Chicago, far from their relatives in Oklahoma. They are of Seminole and Cherokee descent. Grampa is raising Ray after Ray’s parents were tragically killed in a tornado.

Each story features incidents that happen in and around Chicago or in Oklahoma. Many of the stories have humorous scenes or humorous themes. Grampa’s feelings about life and his memories of the past are the underlying theme of each story. He enjoys sharing his family stories and cultural gems with Ray.

Grampa’s love and affection for Ray are evident in their daily activities and in the wisdom he exhibits for his grandson’s ups and downs and the challenges Ray faces in his young life. I admired the rapport between and the depth of their bond with each other and to their heritage.

The author’s use of higher-level vocabulary and her respect for the reader’s intelligence make this a great read for readers of all ages! I believe this would be an excellent read-aloud for families, classrooms, libraries, and youth/scout/church groups.
 
This collection was heartwarming and touching. I will be seeking out more of this author’s work to read in the future.
 

Highly-recommended to fans of Native American literature, diverse character fiction, family heritage fiction, historical fiction, and fiction where the main character is a male.

I borrowed this book from the New Book shelf in the children’s section of the local public library.
 

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About the Author

Cynthia’s fiction is noted for its diversity, humor, lyricism, and mid-to-southwestern settings. Still early in her career, she has shown tremendous range and loves to experiment.

Cynthia lives in Austin, Texas and is a citizen of the Muscogee Creek Nation. The Austin chapter of SCBWI has instituted the Cynthia Leitich Smith Mentor Award in her honor. She also serves on the faculty of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults and leads the annual We Need Diverse Books Native Writing Intensive.

Cynthia holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and a J.D. from The University of Michigan Law School in Ann Arbor. She studied law abroad at Paris-Sorbonne University.

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