A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Kira-Kira is a story about a poor Japanese-American family living in the South during the 1950s. Katie's sister becomes deathly ill with lymphoma, and it tears the family apart. The family encounters racism, although narrator Katie is matter-of-fact about it and only gradually realizes the limitations she'll face because of it. The only violence occurs when Katie's brother gets his ankle caught in an animal trap that a rich man put in his field to prevent trespassing. Katie's uncle chews and spits tobacco. There's one use of a drawled version of "s--t.")
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
When Katie is 5 years old, her family moves from Iowa to Georgia, where they become one of only 31 Japanese-Americans in town. Katie adores and admires her older sister, Lynn, who sees everything as kira-kira -- shining and glittering. Before Katie starts school, Lynn tells her that people may not want to talk to her because of her race, but Katie isn't really bothered by this. She's more interested in following her sister around and doing whatever she does, and, when her baby brother is born, taking care of him. Her parents both work in chicken-processing plants and are made to work inhumane hours -- for example, her mother has to wear a pad because she's not allowed to go to the bathroom -- but they withold support of a union out of fear of losing their jobs. Though Katie finds school boring, she finds joy elsewhere -- she loves camping with her uncle, looking at the stars with her sister, and playing with her little brother. When Lynn becomes very ill, she feels as if she's losing her whole family, as her parents must work extra long hours to pay medical bills, and Lynn no longer seems like Lynn. Ultimately, it falls to Katie to hold the family together.
Is it any good?
Historical fiction lovers will find an easy entry into KIRA-KIRA, as Katie's an immensely likeable narrator. She manages to remain optimistic about her future despite her family's struggles to stay afloat financially and, later, to get through her sister's illness. Her experiences as a Japanese-American girl living in the Deep South in the 1950s are fascinating and sometimes amusing (as when Katie talks about her Southern accent and her celebrity status as "the little Japanese girl who said 'you all' instead of 'you'") and touch on political and social issues without being heavy-handed. Readers not interested in history may find it rough going, however, since it sometimes seems as if nothing good ever happens to Katie, and the bad times accumulate, especially toward the end.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about historical fiction. What kinds of details show the story is taking place in a time different time from our own? What do you like about reading historical novels?
How have attitudes about race changed since the 1950s? What other books you've read or movies you've seen show kids dealing with racism?
Some nights Katie and Lynn stay up and tell each other their "selfish wishes" and then finish with an unselfish wish. What selfish wish would you make? How about an unselfish one?
- Author: Cynthia Kadohata
- Genre: Coming of Age
- Topics: Brothers and Sisters, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster
- Publication date: February 27, 2005
- Number of pages: 244
- Available on: Paperback, Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Awards: ALA Best and Notable Books, Newbery Medal and Honors
- Last updated: September 19, 2015
Our editors recommend
For kids who love historical fiction and strong female characters
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