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Sunday, June 17, 2012

Kira Kira by Cynthia Kadohata

Hardships. Culturally Diverse. 
Beautifully-Written. Glittering. Real.


Kira Kira
Written by Cynthia Kadohata.
Published by Atheneum, 2004.

From School Library Journal
Grade 6-8--Katie's first word is "kira-kira," the Japanese word for "glittering," and she uses it to describe everything she likes. It was taught to her by her older sister, Lynn, whom Katie worships. Both girls have trouble adjusting when their parents move the family from Iowa to a small town in rural Georgia, where they are among only 31 Japanese-Americans. They seldom see their parents, who have grueling jobs in chicken-processing plants. Then Lynn becomes deathly ill, and Katie is often left to care for her, a difficult and emotionally devastating job. When her sister dies of lymphoma, Katie searches for ways to live up to her legacy and to fulfill the dreams she never had a chance to attain. Told from Katie's point of view and set in the 1950s, this beautifully written story tells of a girl struggling to find her own way in a family torn by illness and horrendous work conditions. Katie's parents can barely afford to pay their daughter's medical bills, yet they refuse to join the growing movement to unionize until after Lynn's death. All of the characters are believable and well developed, especially Katie, who acts as a careful observer of everything that happens in her family, even though there is a lot she doesn't understand. Especially heartbreaking are the weeks leading up to Lynn's death, when Katie is exhausted and frustrated by the demands of her sister's illness, yet willing to do anything to make her happy. Girls will relate to and empathize with the appealing protagonist.--Ashley Larsen, Woodside Library, CA 
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

"This novel shine[s]." -Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

"Will speak to readers who have lost someone they love or fear that they could." -Booklist, Starred Review

"An unforgettable story." -San Diego Union-Tribune

Winner of the John Newbery Medal, 2005
Winner of the American Library Association Notable Books for Children, 2005
Winner of the Asian Pacific American Award for Literature, 2005
Nominated for the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children's Book Award, 2006
Nominated for the Nene Award, 2006
Nominated for the Garden State Teen Book Award, 2007
Nominated for the Young Reader's Choice Award, 2007
Nominated for the Colorado Blue Spruce Young Adult Book Award, 2007
Nominated for the Nene Award, 2007


Written by a Newbery Award Medalist, children's author Cynthia Kadohata introduces this glittering story about two Japanese sisters named Lynn and Katie Takeshima. Set in the 1950s, Katie and her family have no choice, but to move down to Georgia. Both Katie and Lynn suffer with tears as they drive down with all their belongings in their moving truck to Georgia, leaving their past behind. Now living in Georgia, the Takeshima's suffer through many hardships, primary with discrimination and awful working conditions. With all this discomfort, Lynn and Katie find a way to work through the turmoil together by looking at life through the word kira kira, which means glittering in Japanese. Throughout this story, Lynn plays an important role in Katie's life and when Lynn is unfortunately diagnosed with lymphoma, the family collapses. How will the Takeshima's get through this tragic hardship? Who will Katie look to? Is there still hope in their family that there will be kira kira in their life?
"Here at the sea - especially the sea - I could hear my sister's voice in the waves: 'Kira-kira! Kira-kira!" (Kadohata, )
Extras: In Kira Kira, at the end of the book, there is a guide for reading groups, in which the author has provided a variety of discussion questions that could be used for your reading groups. Great addition to your lesson plan if you have not already have this sort of activity. Also towards the end of the book, there is a brief summary of the author on how she received the John Newbery Award Medal for Kira Kira and the publication of her other novels. She also gives acknowledgement to the people who supported her. Lastly, students are able to view an excerpt of Kadohata's Weedflower, which is one of her new novels.

Literary Genre: Diversity, Fiction & Literature, Juvenile, Social Issues
Reading Level: Lexile Framework 740L, Grade 5/6
Suggested Delivery: Independent Read or Small Group Read
ISBN-13: 978-0689856393

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Teachers... Here are some resources to help 
you teach Kira Kira

Electronic Resources:
Author's Site: Cynthia Kadohata - This is a great source for teachers and students to view before reading, especially since the author is a Newbery Award Winner for her book, Kira Kira. This link provides a biography of the author, books that she has written for younger and older readers, Q&A, how to contact her, galleries and pictures of dogs, and a variety of links about Japanese Americans, her passion of recusing animals, primarily dogs, and leukemia, which is a type of cancer. As said before, great to review before reading as a way to engage and interest readers.

More Info on Cynthia Kadohata - This is another great source to learn more about the author. This site includes more Q&A, biography, book club tips, blogs and news about Cynthia Kadohata, and many more. Great to review before or during reading.

Japanese American National Museum - This book is focused primarily on the Japanese-American heritage; thus, this link is a great source to view the history and culture of Japanese-Americans in the United States. Also, this website includes an interactive link to a student webpage where they are able to explore more about Japanese cuisine, music and theatre. Moreover, teachers are able to set up group visits and engage students by having students look through the different type of collections or exhibitions that the museum is hosting. Great to view before, during, or after reading.


Japanese Flag
Reading Group Guide: Kira Kira - This source is a great link for teachers, especially if they are creating their lesson plan for this book. Included in this website are pre-reading activities, biography of the author, summary of the book, discussion questions that could be asked during literature circles or small groups, and research activities. Great to review before reading so teachers are prepared.
Japanese Americans During the 1950s - Great link for students to view before reading the story as it will give students the mindset of what the setting and the theme/culture of the book will illustrate. As they learn a brief history of Japanese Americans during the 1950s, they will be able to connect to the story better with the knowledge they gained from this pre-reading activity.

People in the 1950s - This is another link to place student in the mindset of what the 1950s were like and how life was different then to now. Also, students are able to differentiate how society viewed certain aspects in that time period. Overall, students are able to relate and connect to the story better from this activity by having this pre-reading strategy. Great for students to view before or during reading.

Japanese Culture for Students - This link is an interactive source for students to explore before, during, or after reading. This website focuses on Japanese culture and it provides different activities for students such as videos, articles, maps, Japanese history and language, folktales, traditions, type of schooling and government, and many more. Great way to engage and interest students as they begin to read Kira Kira.

Lymphoma Research Foundation - As students read Kira Kira, they will learn that Katie will die from Lymphoma, which is a type of cancer. Having students view this website while they are reading will help them understand what type of sickness this is and how it can affect daily and family life. This will also have students make text-to-self connections especially if students have anyone in their family affected by cancer. Teachers could encourage students to create a Lymphoma bulletin board explaining the disease and how one can prevent or help treat the disease.

Key Vocabulary: hatchery, incubators, sexers, burly, emanating, unionize, clattered, disdainful, unabashedly, 

Teaching Suggestions:
  1. Use this text as a supplementary unit in Social Studies to discuss the economic hardships and cultural differences/discrimination that many races have faced throughout the United States. Also to make text-to-self and text-to-world connections to see if they ever or saw someone else face economic hardships or cultural discrimination. 
  2. Use this text in Mathematics to determine the daily wage that laborers usually received during the 1950s through 1960s and to compare it to the current wage today. How much of inflation since 1950s? 1960s? 2012? Use this calculator to determine the inflation.
  3. Use this text in Social Studies to explore the Japanese Culture and to compare and contrast the culture to America.
  4. Use this text in Social Studies as supplement when teaching the American Dream or transnationalism.
  5. Use this text in Social Studies to explore if the United States during this time is a melting pot. Discuss what a melting pot is so that students are aware of the concept.
  6. Use this text in Reading and Language Arts to explore Japanese literature and poetry, i.e. haikus. How is it different to American Literature?
  7. Use this text in Reading and Language Arts to discuss narrative elements such as point of view. Was this book written in the first, second or third person? How does that effect the perspective of the story?
Comprehension Strategies (You do not necessarily have to do all the activities, they are just suggestions):
  • Before Reading: 
    • A great way to introduce this story is to have students participate in a Text Impressions, in which they will think/predict what the book may be about by looking at the cover or the title. Have students write their ideas down in a student writing journal. Then, ask students if they know what type of race the two girls may be on the front cover. If students respond Japanese, ask students if they are familiar with the Japanese culture or if they have any family friends or relatives that are Japanese. If so, have students discuss their experiences to the whole group. Moreover, to engage and interest students, discuss with students that they will be reading a story that primarily focuses on Japanese Americans during the 1950s-1960s. Provide students an Anticipation Guide that will discuss the major concepts of the novel, i.e. the history and culture of Japanese Americans during the 1950s-1960s in the United States. Also discuss with students the events that are going around the world during the time, not only in the United States, but other countries. This will give students a broader view/setting and how different aspects/events can affect the character's lives within the story. Students, in small groups, also research more about Japanese-American culture to increase their scheme before reading.
    • Ask students if they have a sibling and how that sibling is important to them. Ask students to describe how their brother(s) or sister(s) affect their daily lives and how if one day they were not here, how would they feel.
    • Ask students what they believe the word discrimination means and how they feel about that word or how they feel when they see someone or themselves being discriminated by their race, heritage, gender, age, socioeconomic status, etc. Discuss with students how they would feel in that current situation and how would they deal with that. Moreover, discuss with students the importance of diversity and equality and how these terms may not mean the same during the different periods in America. Also discuss with students that during these different periods in America, many races were not treated with the same respect or attitude of life. Discuss the hardships that these people face and how it affects the daily lives of people during that time. 
      • Communicating and answering these questions/concepts will have students think about their reading and make text-to-self and text-to-world connections, and it will boost student's prior knowledge.
  • During Reading: 
    • While reading Kira Kira, Katie learns from her sister Lynn that kira-kira means glittering or shiny. It is the first word that she ever learns from Lynn. Everything that Katie sees or likes, she believes it to be kira kira. Ask students why the word kira kira is important to Lynn and Katie and how this word affects their daily life. Why do you think Lynn taught her sister this first word and not any other word? Have students also write a list that Katie or Lynn thinks to be kira kira and explain why they think it is. Students may also create a list of their own interest that is kira kira and share their list with another student.
    • Have students participate in a story map, in which they will discuss the major themes, settings, main plot/events, climax, resolution and characters throughout the story. They will work in small groups to discuss these categories. This will increase student's literal and inferential comprehension because it is assessing if students are constructing meaning from the story and deciding what are and are not the main or key details. Students may also use sticky notes to monitor or review their reading.
    • Discuss immigration within in the United States with students. Ask students if they know what the word means and if they know of anyone who left their home country to live in the United States or if student are immigrant themselves. Ask students if they believe that Katie and Lynn's parent are immigrants? How can one tell that they are not truly born and raised Americans? Next, students will read over a part on how Katie and Lynn's mother hope that they do not lose their Japanese heritage because she thinks that her daughters are assimilating to the American lifestyle. Have students make text-to-self connections by discussing how it might feel for Katie and Lynn to live in America, but to also follow the Japanese lifestyle. What might be some complications that they will run into? How does it feel to live with two identities: an American and Japanese life? What types of practices do Katie and Lynn do to keep to their heritage?
    • Have students participate in a cause and effect map/worksheet, in which students will write down an action that was done by one of the characters and they must write down the effect from the action. For example, Katie and Lynn's parents business was not doing well or making enough money => they had to close their business down. Have students review other cause and effects so that they are able to understand that an action always has a consequence.
  • After Reading: 
    • To pretend (this does not actually happen), before Lynn passed away, she leaves a secret letter for Katie under her pillow. Katie finds the letter and reads it. Have students write an inspirational letter that Lynn would write to her sister. Discuss with students the characteristics of Lynn and how she plays a major role in Katie's life. In the last letter, students should realize what Lynn wants for her sister or aspires for her sister to do, i.e. even though she passes, what does she want Katie to do to move on? This is a great way to evaluate or assess if students acknowledges who the characters are in the story and if they are able to put themselves in the character's shoes.
    • Have a whole group discussion in which students will discuss the story's narration. In this case, it is narrated by the younger sister Lynn. Ask students to communicate how the story may have been told if it were narrated by the older sister, Katie, the Father or Mother. Would the story be similar or different? Why is it significant that Lynn is narrating the story? After the discussion, have students choose their favorite scene/part in the story, in which they will have to re-write the scene/part in a different view or another character's point of view. Have students share their writing to another student so that both students could agree or disagree with the perspective or to improve the writing.
    • Students will soon realize that Katie's family starts to fall apart when Lynn is diagnosed with Lymphoma and soon dies from this awful illness. Even though the family is in a bad place, discuss how Katie brings their family back to life, to have happiness back? What does she have to do in order to instill hope in the family? Have students discuss this question in small groups where students are able to share their answers or a Think-Pair-Share. Have students make text-to-self connections if they have ever been in a similar situation (bad place/time/things are not going the way they are supposed) and how they supported their families.
Student Writing Activity:
  • Have students create a Haiku, which is type of Japanese poetry. Introduce to students what a haiku is by preparing this lesson plan on how to write in this particular style. After they are comfortable with the criteria and structure, have students create a Haiku for either Katie or Lynn, or any concept or theme they see interesting. Discuss with students that their haikus must represent the person or theme that they are writing about. Students may also use this Haiku template to brainstorm. Students can either share their Haikus to another student or to the whole class. Create a bulletin board and display student's Haikus. Encourage to students to be original and creative.
  • Students may create an Acrostic Poem for either Katie and/or Lynn.

Kadohata, C. (2004). Kira-kira. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

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