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Children’s Historical Fiction: Something for Everyone

Kenmore Heritage Society had the opportunity to get acquainted with Kirby Larson, an acclaimed author and longtime resident of Kenmore. Kirby Larson is best known for her characters and contexts in historical fiction for children and young adults. Hattie Big Sky is the story a young woman who takes on the challenges of homesteading in Montana against a backdrop of WWI. The Dogs of World War II series showcases how special animals played an important part in surviving those challenging times. History and mystery come together in Audacity Jones to the Rescue. The Two Bobbies traces the true story of two pets lost in the wake of Hurricane Katrina who find each other.

1. When or how did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I never dreamed of being a writer when I was growing up because I’d never met one! But I was a passionate reader and the stories I read inspired me to write my own. I studied journalism in college because that was the only way I knew to get a writing job. It wasn’t until I was a mom introducing my kids to the books I loved and learning about the new books out there (thank you, Margaret MacDonald at the Bothell Library!) that I got the idea to combine my love of reading and my love of writing. I started trying to get published in about 1990 — it only took me 3 years and over 250 rejections to finally have my own book in my hands!

2. Where do your ideas come from?

They come from paying attention, and from asking myself “what if?” For example, I was reading about the Japanese and Japanese American strawberry farmers living in Bellevue in the 1940s, who were part of the 120,000 people (mostly American citizens) who were incarcerated in “war relocation camps” during WWII. One vignette described a woman who wrote to General DeWitt (the officer in charge of the evacuation) asking if she could take her dog to the camp. His reply wasn’t included but I knew from previous research that she would not have been allowed to take the pup. As a dog lover, I wondered what I would do if I was unfairly removed from my home and forced to leave my four-legged best friend behind and that wondering lead me to write DASH, which won the 2015 Scott O’Dell Historical Fiction Prize.

3. What has been your most popular children’s book and why?

There are two books that tie for that honor: the Newbery Honor book Hattie Big Sky, which was inspired by my great-grandmother’s experiences homesteading all by herself as a young woman in eastern Montana during WWI, and Nubs: The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine, and a Miracle, which is a nonfiction picture book I wrote with my dear friend Mary Nethery. It tells the story of a dog who so bonded with a US Marine stationed in Iraq that he tracked the Marine 70 miles across the desert in the dead of winter with a punctured lung so they could be reunited.

4. What do you hear from parents or other adults who also read your books?

I get letters and emails all the time from adults who’ve read my books. Often they start with some kind of apology, like “I know I’m a grown up and shouldn’t read kids’ books,” which is a crying shame. The world of children’s literature is rich and varied, complex and funny. Everyone should be reading kids’ books! The adults who write me and the kids who write me all say similar things — they generally reach out because they want to share a connection they made with the story. I even had a 70+ year old cowboy from Montana write me to say he loved Hattie Big Sky.

5. What do you like to read in your spare time?

I am an eclectic reader. Because I write primarily historical fiction, the teetering stack on my nightstand includes a good deal of nonfiction for research (our public library research librarians have my undying admiration and gratitude! My reading includes a ton of middle grade fiction, because that’s the genre I mostly publish in, and it includes titles by favorite adult authors like Ann Tyler, Louise Penny, Amy Stewart and others.

6. What writers have inspired you?

There are truly too many to name. The children’s literature community is generous and supportive, and I have benefitted from the encouragement and guidance of many people, including my friend Mary Nethery, Karen Cushman, Barbara O’Connor, Augusta Scattergood, David Patneaude (a Woodinville resident) and Susan Hill Long.

7. Do you have a tip for someone who wants to become a writer?

Read, read, read. Write every day, even if only for 15 minutes. And find someone to read your work who cares enough about you to give honest input.

8. What do you like most about Kenmore?

My favorite thing about Kenmore is that I live right next door to two of our grandchildren — how lucky is that?! In addition, we have lived on the same street for over 35 years so all of our neighbors are dear to us. Before the pandemic, we threw an annual summer block party, which was a wonderful chance to just sit and chat and catch up. And everyone on the street is ready at the drop of a hat to help a neighbor in need; it’s a great feeling to live near such caring folks. In addition, I live a seven-minute walk from Moorlands Elementary which is where my kids attended school; I now volunteer in the library every week. Our Northshore School District provided a fabulous education for our children and is doing the same for our two local grandkids. I adore our “new” Kenmore Library and being able to support small businesses like The Jewel Box. We have such friendly folks at the post office (I’m looking at you, Roland!) and great restaurants to frequent, like The Guest House and Stoup Brewery and Diva Espresso in the Hangar. I’m grateful that my husband has the opportunity to pursue his new passion of rowing at the Kenmore Boat House and I’m looking forward to even more community enhancements.

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