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Children’s book brings Spearfish World War II Veteran’s story to life

Illustrator, Felicia Hoshino and author, Lauren R. Harris with their children’s book, 'A Place for Harvest, The Story of Kenny Higashi'

Spearfish, South Dakota is the setting for children’s book written by Lauren R. Harris. A Place for Harvest tells the story of World War II Veteran and Japanese American Kenny Higashi.

Born in Belle Fourche and raised on a Spearfish vegetable farm, Higashi only left his beloved hometown to serve his country.

That’s author, Lauren R. Harris reading from A Place for Harvest, The Story of Kenny Higashi, a children’s book she recently published with the South Dakota Historical Society Press.

Harris’ children’s book is based on the true story of Spearfish, South Dakota World War II Veteran, Kenny Higashi. Higashi is the only South Dakotan to fight with the 100th/442nd Regimental Combat Team. An all Japanese American Unit, the 100th/442nd is the most decorated unit for its size and length of service.

“The more I heard about his experience, the more I thought, this is very important for children to know,” Harris says.

Harris met Higashi while conducting research for her first children’s book, The Plum Neighbor, a story of neighbors helping neighbors that also focuses on Japanese Americans and the impact of Executive Order 9066 following the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Executive Order 9066 resulted in the incarceration of Japanese Americans.

“I remembered a story from our family, that I had been told to me about my Mother-In-Law’s grandparents who lived in Las Angeles and had Japanese American neighbors who they loved very much. And what their response to this executive order was a wonderful picture of kindness,” Harris says.

When their neighbors were forced to leave their home for an incarceration camp, Harris’ family helped by protecting their neighbors’ belongings and property until they were able to return home after the war.

As a soldier in the 100th/442nd Kenny Higashi also plays a role in her family’s story.

“My mother-in-law’s uncle told one story about his experience in the war. He was trapped with his group of soldiers in a battle they could not get out of. They thought they were going to die there. After several days, they were finally rescued by the all Japanese American soldiers, and he said, that in that unit of soldiers who rescued him was the son of the neighbor that his family had helped,” Harris says.

Living in Spearfish at the time she was working on The Plum Neighbor, Harris mentioned to a friend that she would love to meet a soldier from the 100th/442nd. This friend introduced her to Kenny Higashi. A friendship soon blossomed between the author and the 94-year-old Veteran and retired Assistant Postmaster. And over time, Higashi shared his story with Harris.

“As I listened to him, I realized he had a whole story to tell that he had never shared with anyone,” Harris says.

Higashi’s story is one of love for his hometown of Spearfish where he grew up fishing in the creek with his father and helping his family on their vegetable farm. And it’s one of valor as he fought with the 100th/442nd whose men lived out their motto “Go For Broke.”

Higashi’s story is also evidence of the long reach of Executive Order 9066.

“Anyone of Japanese ancestry was to be sent to an internment camp, which was really an incarceration camp with the barbed wire facing in and the guard towers facing in…at the same time that was pretty isolated to the West Coast area, I was not absolutely sure the Higashis would have to go to the camps….He shared with me his experience which was, he had two men in uniform visit their home and tell them one brother would have to serve in the Military and the other could stay to run the farm and this would be the bargain that the government would make with their family,” Harris says.

Although the treatment of Japanese Americans during World War II is a difficult story to tell, Harris felt it an important story for children to learn.

“The way my husband and I raised our children is the truth is very important. And we do need to make sure they are aware of things that are sometimes difficult, especially in our country’s history. We are not a perfect nation. In fact, we won’t ever be…but we should not shy away from that but rather just talk about the hope that comes from difficult things. That is a uniquely American concept,” Harris says.

In A Place for Harvest, The Story of Kenny Higashi Harris is intentional about sharing the tough truths as well as the hopeful ones.

She had help from San Francisco-based illustrator Felicia Hoshino. A fourth-generation Japanese American, when Hoshino first read Harris’ manuscript, she found many similarities between Kenny Higashi’s family story and her own.

“My father’s mother, her father around 1910 or so, they came here, and they were farmers as well,” Hoshino says.

After Pearl Harbor and the signing of Executive Order 9066, Hoshino’s father, just 2-months old at the time and his family were forced into an incarceration camp. This is one of several children’s books she has illustrated that discuss this sensitive topic.

Felicia Hoshino.

“I appreciate the authors for asking the difficult questions. I was asked not to ask my grandparents the difficult questions, because it was just such a painful, stressful time for them,” Hoshino says.

In her role as illustrator Hoshino conducts extensive research to bring the Kenny Higashi story to life.

“I like learning and the research and putting myself into the shoes of the characters of the time and seeing how they saw the world. And in addition to the words Lauren has written, I do try to go beyond that and create different situations that are on the page that I could envision would be the experience of the time,” Hoshino says.

Because of Hoshino’s research, when readers enjoy A Place for Harvest, in addition to learning about the extraordinary life of World War II Veteran Kenny Higashi they will also see Spearfish historical and geological landmarks.

Lura Roti grew up on a ranch in western South Dakota but today she calls Sioux Falls home. She has worked as a freelance journalist for more than two decades. Lura loves working with the SDPB team to share the stories of South Dakota’s citizens and communities. And she loves sharing her knowledge with the next generation. Lura teaches a writing course for the University of Sioux Falls.