Book review by
Sally Engelfried, Common Sense Media
Kira-Kira Book Poster Image
Popular with kids
Girl faces racism, sister's cancer in touching tale.

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 5 reviews

Kids say

age 10+
Based on 35 reviews

Did this review miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive, diverse representations in books, TV shows, and movies. Want to help us help them? Suggest a diversity update

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

This historical novel may open kids' eyes about what it was like to be non-white in the Deep South during the 1950s. Although Katie doesn't rail against racism, she points out the inequities her family must accept because they're Japanese, such as having to pay more money for a motel room in the back, not having friends at school, and her uncle's inability to get the job he wants. Katie doesn't like school, but because her sister, Lynn, longs for both of them to someday go to college, Katie assumes they both will.

Positive Messages

Keep a positive attitude despite the hardships you must endure. Study diligently so you can go to college. You'll find happiness if you're good to your family and try hard to achieve your goals.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Inspired by her sister, Lynn, Katie has a powerful confidence that stays strong even when people are being mean or rude to her. Katie thinks of herself as a bad girl because she likes doing bad things, but modern readers will find her transgressions, such as having a messy room, mild. She doesn't like school and doesn't try to do well in her studies, but she's a loving, caring sister and daughter who'll do anything for her family. Lynn teaches her to be proud of who she is and is herself an excellent student, willing to work hard so she can someday go to college. Their parents are sometimes strict, but they are loving and kind.


Katie's brother gets his ankle caught in an animal trap that a rich man put in his field to prevent trespassing; the injury leaves him with an occasional limp..


Katie talks about her parents making babies but is unclear on what exactly this entails.


A motel worker says "Shhhheee-it," and Katie's dad whispers to Katie what it means (but what he says does not appear in the text). He also tells her the "B-word" stands for "bad lady."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Katie's uncle chews and spits tobacco.

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."

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byJmchurch September 12, 2018

Surprised by content

I am surprised that the Common Sense Media Expert review and the parent reviews didn’t reveal some unnecessary content in the book.

Sexy stuff: 1) Main char... Continue reading
Adult Written byJohn R. November 1, 2016


I'm not sure how there is only 1 star for language when it uses the S-word. I was pretty shocked to see it in a book for children. The rest of the book i... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written bymaddiem_1212 August 5, 2020
Teen, 15 years old Written byfionahatton May 1, 2019

Good book.

Many people are annoyed by the few swear words and "adult" concepts in this book, but what they don't realize is their kids have most certainly a... Continue reading

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?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love historical fiction and strong female characters

Themes & Topics

Browse titles with similar subject matter.

Top advice and articles

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality.

Learn how we rate