Kadohata, Cynthia. 2004. KIRA-KIRA. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0689856393 [Suggested Grade Levels 5-8]
Told with humor and honesty, KIRA-KIRA is narrated by Katie Takeshima and tells the story of one Japanese-American family’s experiences in the fifties and sixties. The novel shares the family’s experiences with poverty, prejudice, illness, and death as Katie’s older sister is diagnosed with a terminal illness and slowly deteriorates before her family’s eyes. It is both painfully poignant and honest and at times laugh out loud funny.
The strength of Kira-Kira is the growth of the narrator Katie who ages from four to twelve during the course of the novel. As Katie experiences life’s harshness from prejudice to poverty to being the victim of school bullies and teasing, her narrative changes. Her relationship with her sister also changes over time. As a child, she absolutely idolized her sister. She literally believed every word her sister told her. As the sisters grow up, however, Katie learns that things can’t stay the same. Suddenly, her sister becomes more interested in spending time with friends her own age and even more shocking to Katie boys. Her sister no longer has time to play games with her; her interests have changed. It is about this time in her life, that Lynn becomes sick and slowly weakens and dies. Her sister’s death leaves a hole in her life and Katie is unsure of how to cope with all the changes and losses in her life. The novel is one of strength and hope despite its sadness.
“Kira-Kira” is the Japanese word for “glittering.” Discuss its symbolism in KIRA-KIRA. What does the word or concept represent to Katie? How did her concept of the word change over time?
KIRA-KIRA shares one family’s experiences with prejudice. Read “Waiting at the Railroad Café” from GOOD LUCK GOLD and have readers compare that experience to occurrences in the novel. (For examples, see pp. 27, 34, etc.)
Other books about Asian-American families:
Na, An. A STEP FROM HEAVEN. ISBN 0142500275
Wong, Janet S. GOOD LUCK GOLD. ISBN 0689506171
By Becky Laney