Book: Kira-Kira

Author: Cynthia Kadohata

Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Reprinted 2006

ISBN-13: 978-0689856396 Hardcover

ISBN-10: 0689856393 Hardcover

ISBN-13: 978-0689856402 Paperback

ISBN-10: 0689856407 Paperback

Related website(s): (publisher0

Language level: 5

(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)

Recommended reading level: Said to be for ages 10 – 14; I would say 13-16

Rating: *** 3 stars

(5 stars=EXCELLENT; 4 stars=GOOD; 3 stars=FAIR; 2 stars=POOR; 1 star=VERY POOR; no stars=NOT RECOMMENDED)

Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker

Disclosure:  Many publishers, literary agents, and/or authors provide free copies of their books in exchange for an honest review without requiring a positive opinion.  Any books donated to Home School Book Review for review purposes are in turn donated to a library.  No other compensation has been received for the reviews posted on Home School Book Review.

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Kadohata, Cynthia.  Kira-Kira (Publisher in 2004 by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, a division of Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York City, NY  10020; republished in 2005 by Scholastic Inc., 557 Broadway, New York City, NY  10012).  It is early 1960s, and ten and a half year old Katherine Natsuko Takeshima or Katie, a Japanese-American girl born in 1951 who narrates the action, lives with her parents and fourteen year old sister Lynn Akiko (Lynnie).  A baby brother, Samson (Sammy) Ichiro, is born during the course of the story.  Kira-kira is a Japanese word meaning “glittering” which they use to describe what they like or find pleasant.  For example, the sky is kira-kira because its color is deep but see-through at the same time.  The Takeshima family moves from their little rented house in Iowa, where their small Oriental foods grocery store goes out of business, to Georgia, where they live in a tiny apartment, so the father can get a job in a poultry hatchery and the mother in a chicken processing plant, with the hope of buying their own house.

However, after the move, Lynn comes down sick.  At first, she is thought to be suffering from just anemia but is later determined to have lymphoma.  Also, while on a picnic in neighboring fields, Sammy gets his foot caught in an animal trap.  Katie is devastated, and the whole family seems to be falling apart.  What will happen to Lynn and Sammy?  How do Katie and her parents react?  Will their lives ever be kira-kira again?  Even though it plods along at a rather slow pace and thus might be boring to many youngsters, this 2005 Newbery Medal winner has some good themes running throughout it, such as family loyalty, a willingness to work hard, and doing the right thing even though it is hard.  There is also a realistic portrayal of racial prejudice.  However, other aspects of the book are a bit disturbing.

In addition to a little childish slang (pee, poop, butt), some profanity and even vulgarity occur in specific scenes.  Katie’s Uncle Katsuhisa uses the “h” word once and the term “god****it” a couple of times, a neighbor calls someone an “s.o.b.” (all spelled out), and Katie hears a woman say the “s” word which her father has to explain to her.  French kissing is discussed, as is what    parents do to make a baby from a child’s point of view as to the grunting that was heard through the door.  One reviewer noted “a lot of unnecessary adult content that was totally uncalled for in a book marketed to children.”  Also, references are made to smoking, chewing, and spitting tobacco and to some Buddhist beliefs.  The book gives an interesting presentation of what it means to be Asian in American society, but it should be approached with caution.

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