by Cynthia Kadohata. (Atheneum, 2004. ISBN 0689856393. Order Info.) Novel. 256 pages. Grades 4-7.
This book won the 2005 Newbery Award. Kira-kira means glittering and, not to be obvious, this book glitters. It's narrated by Katie, the middle child in a hard working Japanese American family. Katie idolizes Lynn, her older sister, who takes time to teach Katie all the things she ought to know. In Katie's eyes, Lynn is beautiful and brilliant -- kira-kira.
Their mother is fragile, delicate and fearful. Their father is caring and so anxious to do right by his family that he works almost nonstop, first at their Japanese grocery store in Iowa and then at the chicken factory in Georgia. In Georgia they join a very small group of Japanese Americans, most of whom are employed at the chicken factories. Anxious to buy a home of their own, Katie's mother also works long hours at the factory.
This is the 1950s and segregation in Georgia keeps nonwhites in their place. While few people in Georgia are deliberately hateful toward the Japanese Americans who have come there to work in the factories, the racism is apparent. However, when Sam becomes caught in a cruel trap in a field, two non-Japanese come to his rescue.
No sooner have they bought the house, then Lynn becomes ill. The father and mother become frantic with worry over Lynn and with the mounting medical bills.
There is talk of a union at the factories and the children's mother is anti-union. Katie takes on an adult role, cooking, caring for Sam, her little brother, and nursing Lynn as the parents work even longer hours. Katie's feelings toward Lynn vary from love to hate as Lynn's health deteriorates. Their uncle, a noisy exuberant man, helps Katie understand and accept those feelings.
Katie is a careful observer of all she experiences. She flies off the page into our hearts.
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