Cynthia Kadohata's book, Kira-Kira, is a story about an American-Japanese family during the mid-1950's who struggle to save money to buy a home. The story begins in Iowa where the family lives and owns a small Asian grocery store. The parents are American born, educated in Japan and still hold some Japanese traditional qualities. Conflict is introduced when they move to Georgia to work in a poultry factory after their family store fails to be profitable. Additional conflict is added later in the story when the oldest daughter develops a terminal illness. Through the story readers learn about the conditions of living in American during this time period. It accurately reflects prejudice towards Japanese-Americans and other cultures, describes horrible factory working conditions, and demonstrates how communities-families pulled together to cope and improve their situations. This story is told from the view of the younger sister, Katie, who learns about life, love and perseverance through the perceptive guidance of her sister Lynn. The two sisters have a bond that makes this story heart touching and holds the 6th-8th grade readers' imagination. The format uses a child's view to gradually introduce readers to topics of prejudice, cultural differences, and hardships. The following is an example from page 34. " The restaurant signs said things like COLORED IN BACK. The white people sat at the front. We didn't know where to sit, so we always ordered to-go. We didn't see another Japanese person anywhere. We got stared at quite a bit. Sometimes a white lady would lean over us and exclaim, "How Cute!" Some of them touched our faces, as if they weren't sure we were real."
At the same time that sensitive topics are being introduced, the reader is also forming a relationships with the characters reflective of an American child experience. The following is an example from page 13. "My uncle was exactly one inch taller than my father. But his stomach was soft. We knew this because we hit him in it once the year before, and he yelped in pain and threatened to spank us. We got sent to bed without supper because my parents said hitting someone was the worst thing you could do. Stealing was the second, and lying was third. Before I was twelve, I would have committed all three of those crimes."
Criteria and Standards For Good Multi-Cultural Reading
However I may feel about this book for personal reading, I must keep in mind that I am reviewing the book for teaching purposes to determine if it meets the standards of good multi-cultural literature. As a guide I used currently defined criteria for good multicultural literature in the following areas: 1. Uses details authentic to culture and is represented accurately. 2. Does the author have an inside or outside view of the cultural portrayed in the story, and 3. Does it separate stereotyping of culture by giving diversity and individuality to characters within the culture group portrayed. (ENG 242 p32-34) A quick review of the criteria mentioned would make me sway on the edge of caution and has me hesitate approving it for middle-school reading material. My concerns are in the area of stereotyping. The book to some extent appears to use common Asian-American stereotyping of characters and theme. The following stereotyping formats are deemed harmful and can be found in the book Kira-Kira. (ENG 242 p 40) Characters are focused on buying a home to measure up to middle-class white values. Asian children are extremely intelligent. It also suggest that characters are hard working, learned to speak English and keep a low profile to overcome harsh conditions and avoid culture conflicts. The following excerpts from the book Kira-Kira are examples of mentioned above stereotyping. I told my parents that Amber had dropped Lynn. I wished I hadn't, because I saw how it hurt them. Then I was glad I had, because after I told them, they...