Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

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.


[I bought my own copy of Kira-Kira.]

A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park


A certain prunus vase is among the most prized of Korea's many cultural treasures. It is the finest example of inlaid celadon pottery ever discovered and has been dated to the twelfth century.

The vase's most remarkable feature is its intricate inlay work. Each of the forty-six round medallions is formed by a white outer ring and a black inner ring. Within every circle, carved and then inlaid with great skill, there is a crane in graceful flight. Clouds drift between the medallions, with more cranes soaring among the clouds. And the glaze is a delicate shade of grayish green.

It is called the "Thousand Cranes Vase." Its maker is unknown.

The passage quoted above is the last passage from A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park (Clarion Books, 2001). I've heard that many stories come about by asking what if questions. I haven't done a lot of research on A Single Shard yet, but I imagine that the author read about the Thousand Cranes Vase, maybe even saw it in person, and started asking what if questions and wondering about the childhood of the unknown potter. The result is the story of an orphan boy called Tree-ear, his friend the old Crane-man, the potter Min and his wife, and the village of Ch'ulp'o, renowned for its celadon pottery. Tree-ear is Min's apprentice and he works hard to help the master potter who dreams of being awarded a royal commission.

Tree-ear, Crane-man, Min and his wife are strong and intriguing characters. Tree-ear especially. Young readers will be rooting for him, his creative aspirations, and his friendships all throughout the book! Tree-ear's story is a good one, and it is one that will have young readers always wondering what will happen next.

But personally, what I like about A Single Shard is how well-researched it is and what a delightful and natural-feeling look it is into twelfth century rural Korea and the craft of celadon pottery making. (Information about twelfth century Korea and celadon pottery can also be found in the author's note at the end of the book.)


[I bought my own copy of A Single Shard.]