“Look on the bright side”, you hear them say. Sometimes, that’s easier said than done, especially when life isn’t so encouraging. In Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata —the protagonist, Katie Takeshita, is a Japanese girl born in America. The word “kira-kira”means “glittering” in Japanese. Katie and her sister Lynn learn, through a tumbling turn of unexpected events and depressing changes, that even if situations get dire and stoop to their lowest, hope is the magic that allows them to see things from a very special perspective, the Kira-Kira way. This book is full of inspiration and shows young children a more creative way of thinking.
When Katie’s family moves to Georgia, everything seems to change. This was a time when Americans looked down on the Japanese and all other people of colour. Katie even says that the townspeople believe the Japanese are worthless, “like doormats, or ants or something!” Racism, responsibility, and anger get thrown into Katie’s life, and sometimes she feels like she could shatter under the pressure. But amidst the hurling events and frequent financial struggles, Katie manages to grasp the strong bond of love that connects her with her sister Lynn. This bond makes Katie realize that no matter how bad her grades get, or how behind their family are on their bills, her sister’s love will always protect and guide her, and help her see things the Kira-Kira way. Oh, what would she do without Lynn! But when Lynn turns 14, she becomes friends with a popular girl at school called Amber, and suddenly doesn’t pay as much attention to Katie, or at least not in the way she used to. Katie suddenly senses a deep fear that she might lose the friendly, caring sister she’d always known, or worse, lose her altogether. Kira-Kira has won the Newbery Medal for children’s literature in 2005.
I think this book does a great job of introducing some huge, deep topics to children such as racist discrimination, grief/loss, and worker exploitation. It teaches us to overcome temporary problems that seem permanent, and believe in a strong connection of love and hope. Kadohata also writes in such a way that describes completely normal things as magical and elegant. For instance, she writes, “My sister had taught me to look at the world that way, as a place that glitters, as a place where the calls of the crickets and the crows and the wind are everyday occurrences that also happen to be magic.”
Sometimes when I think back to when I was reading Kira-Kira, I realize the whole book was quite heavy. A lot of the topics and themes this book talks through are pretty dark, and the huge universal problems Katie goes through can be a bit overwhelming, especially for younger readers. Also, the book holds so much emotion within it, including things like grief, guilt, and depression which also may not be ideal for young kids. I think this book would be best suitable for individuals aged 9 and above. Kira Kira also gave me the feeling that it was under this shell the whole time, and the characters were kind of trapped in this dark and depressing atmosphere; I think it would have been nice to add a bit more happiness, since it is a book for kids. Then again, Katie’s family does end up finding a solution to most of their problems at the end, so you know, it’s worth the wait.
Another reason I would definitely not recommend this book to children younger than 9 is because of some of the interesting humour in it. For example, “He went into the tent with Auntie. David said they were trying to make another baby. He said they did it all the time. Years ago when our parents were trying to make Sammy, Lynnie had told me never to go in our parents’ bedroom without knocking. She didn’t tell me not to listen at the door, however, so I knew trying to make a baby was hard work that required a lot of effort and grunting.” *stunned* Was that really necessary? Don’t even get me started on this next one: “David, who was always my pal, ceremoniously plucked a few letters from his collection and then set down his letters and spelled ‘S-P-E-R-M.’ ‘Where did you learn that word?’ said Auntie Fumi. ‘From Dad.’ Uncle Katsuhisa didn’t speak, but he turned red. Funny moments, but would be confusing for younger kids.
The Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket is one of my favourite reads, and I think that if you enjoyed following along on adventures with Violet Baudelaire, you’ll enjoy Kira-Kira. It’s very inspirational and motivates you to start finding the good things that happen in life. Because the book was so glum, though, I give Kira-Kira 3.5 out of 5 stars.