11. Kira Kira by Cynthia Kadohata
The Newbery Winner in 2004, this straightforward narrative is all in the details. The story is about a family of Japanese Americans who want the American dream: to own their own home. The parents work in relentless pursuit of this dream as workers in chicken processing plants. It’s also about the relationship between the narrator and younger sister, Katie, and her older sister, Lynn. Lynn guides Katie through her childhood in a benevolent and loving fashion and helps Katie look at the world as a place of beauty and limitless possibilities. When Katie is 10 and Lynn is 14, Lynn gets cancer and their roles begin to shift. Set in the South in the 1950’s, the themes of being a first generation immigrant family in a culture of racism play in the backdrop of this family drama.
The story is somewhat autobiographical, as the author is Japanese American and her father did work as a sexer (a person who separates the male chicks from the females) in a chicken processing plant in the south in the late 1950’s.
Reading Challenges and Teaching Opportunities:
Background Knowledge: Because it is set in the 1950’s in the south, it is important for readers to have some understanding of the culture of racism during that time. Also, the issue of being a first generation immigrant family is a concept that some young readers might not be familiar with.
Character Development: The thing that stood out most for me in this book was the voice of the main character. She has a very clipped tone and a clear sense of self. You can imagine how a conversation with this character would go outside of this book. The author reveals her through the standard “Think, Say, Do” but particularly through the “Think”
(Ah, me! I thought I posted this over a week ago… found it languishing in my ‘drafts’… There is more to say about this book, but I have moved on. This highlights to me how important it is to keep some sort of book log- even the briefest of reactions… because I am several books beyond this one now and have already lost some of my initial impressions.)