Happy weekend, my friends!
I hope this post finds you well. It’s been a busy and thoughtful week for me. I found out this week that one of my most memorable professors passed away. Her class was incredibly difficult but also one of the most rewarding courses I ever took. I still think about the things I learned in that class from that incredible professor. She taught me the power and importance of literature and how it connects to our experiences, our memories, and our faith. I am forever grateful for her.
Today, it is apt to share a review of a recent favorite read of mine, Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata. This novel won the Newbery Medal in 2005. I absolutely loved this book. The story of a girl and her family, this novel celebrates finding the joy within a lifetime of struggles. And that is just what my professor did and taught.
**There are some spoilers in this review that give away the ending of the book.
Consider reading the book first before reading my review.**
- I am starting to have read a fair amount of novels about Asian American characters and I am fascinated by their struggles and triumphs. This is quickly becoming a favorite sub-genre for me.
- This book goes on my list of favorite Newbery Winners read so far. It really struck me and has stayed with me since finishing it. I love when a Newbery book becomes a favorite. I’m glad the Newbery Challenge has introduced me to so many great novels.
According to Goodreads, “kira-kira (kee ra kee ra): glittering; shining Glittering. That’s how Katie Takeshima’s sister, Lynn, makes everything seem. The sky is kira-kira because its color is deep but see-through at the same time. The sea is kira-kira for the same reason and so are people’s eyes. When Katie and her family move from a Japanese community in Iowa to the Deep South of Georgia, it’s Lynn who explains to her why people stop on the street to stare, and it’s Lynn who, with her special way of viewing the world, teaches Katie to look beyond tomorrow, but when Lynn becomes desperately ill, and the whole family begins to fall apart, it is up to Katie to find a way to remind them all that there is always something glittering — kira-kira — in the future.”
I think my favorite part of this novel is kira-kira. The title is perfect and I loved the ways kira kira plays into the story. This is a story about kira-kira more than any individual character. I loved how Katie defines it and redefines it throughout the story. It’s Lynn who first teaches Katie about kira-kira. And while that sister bond changes, kira-kira keeps them together. Kira-Kira means glittering and the most common things that glitter are the sea, the sky, and people’s eyes. Lynn has a way of seeing kira-kira all around her in her drab, everyday life. Until she gets sick, and it becomes harder for her. So Katie finds the kira kira for her family. It doesn’t keep them from suffering and hurting, but it gives them something to hope for through the pain.
I really enjoyed Katie as narrator. Her point of view is so innocent and yet matures with her in the story. She sees her family through such a loving lens but also a realistic one when things get hard. I loved her tender admiration for her sister Lynn. Her love for her younger brother Sammy. And the ways she tries to maker her parents proud. They go through a lot of hard things. Katie’s parents work all the time in some surprisingly difficult working conditions. The kids are not accepted at school and don’t have a lot of friends. The family struggles just to find time to be all together. We see it all through Katie’s perspective. I admired the simple just profound insights about the world.
This story is about a family with a lot of struggles but who also find the kira kira and the good in their lives. They move to Georgia from Iowa for work. And the parents work all the time at all sorts of crazy hours. I couldn’t believe the working conditions in the factory: extremely long hours, hygiene requirements, even bathroom pads! I liked how Katie chronicles her mother’s opinions about the union and how they change. The parents are saving for a house and want to give their children a better life. Yet they are often absent from the home to do that. Lynn gets sick and you can feel how her sickness will end far before we know the ending. That puts added strain on the family and everyone including Katie is affected. Lynn’s death is tragic but not melodramatic. Lynn is alone when it happens and Katie feels guilty about that even though she went to see the sun rise as was their tradition. Their father looses control for perhaps the first time in his life smashing Mr Lyndon’s car but getting away with it. But how he teachers Katie about the importance of being brave enough to apologize and always act with dignity were beautiful lessons. Even how everyone thought they had kept the family going in the dark, depressing months after Lynn’s death were memorable. They care about each other. These struggles were intense but also felt real to me. They felt authentic and relatable.
This is a really beautiful novel. I really enjoyed the narration and all the ways kira-kira plays into the story. While there is certainly tragedy in this novel, I loved the ending at the sea because of all the hopeful possibilities for their family. This novel is great for upper middle grade readers and offers a lot to discuss with kids and adults alike. One of my favorites lately!
How have you seen kira-kira in your life?
Which books have stuck with you after you’ve finished them?
I read this Newbery Medal winner as a part of my Newbery Challenge.
My current goal is to read at least 1 Newbery Winner a month until I’ve read them all.
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