One very windy day in Iowa, Katie Takeshima and her older sister Lynn climbed to their roof with two boxes of Kleenex. They took the Kleenex out one at a time and let the wind catch it. They got in trouble, but it was worth it. The tissues had looked like giant butterflies in the wind. It had been the smart and beautiful Lynn's idea. As Katie says: "Lynn could take a simple, everyday object like a box of Kleenex and use it to prove how amazing the world is." Lynn doesn't just show her family how amazing the world is, she shows us readers too, just by being herself. The story of Katie and Lynn also reminds us readers of how precious family is.
I've never read a novel both as sad and hopeful as Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata (Atheneum, 2004). In the novel, all the relationships between family members, but especially between Katie and Lynn and their younger brother Sammy, are so real and so beautiful. It's scary and tragic when Lynn becomes terminally ill, and we see how confused and devastated her family gets.
Aside from characters and relationships I truly care about, what really impresses me about Kira-Kira is the fully realized childhood of Katie. Katie shares a lot of her childhood experiences - conversations, mishaps, and play time with Lynn and Sammy; visiting her working mom at a chicken processing plant; visiting her working dad at a hatchery; episodes featuring her odd uncle; camping trips; and more - and for me these experiences are interesting and entertaining because they feel so authentic. And it isn't just Katie's experiences that are authentic. Her thought processes, feelings, and priorities are authentic too. In Kira-Kira, Cynthia Kadohata has demonstrated a sincere respect for and a clear, sensitive understanding of her young readers.
It was Lynn who taught Katie her first word: kira-kira, which is "glittering" or "shining" in Japanese. Kira-Kira is a very touching novel about life and family and childhood that proves that despite profound loss, the world is kira-kira.