Kira-Kira: Cynthia Kadohata’s 2005 Newbery Award Winning “Glittering” New Novel
Kira-Kira, the title of Cynthia Kadohata’s novel, means “glittering” in Japanese. These are the first words Katie Takeshima, the main character, learns from her sister Lynn, and as she explains, it is a word she uses to describe everything she likes—from the sky to colored Kleenex. In its own way, Kira-Kira glitters, deeply touching readers with both its hope and sadness.
Kira-Kira revolves around Katie Takeshima’s Japanese American family in the 1950s as they move from a Japanese community in Iowa to Georgia. Once in the South, Katie’s mother and father struggle to earn a living at a local hatchery, the children deal with adjusting to their new home in what seems like a foreign land, and the entire family must come to terms with Lynn’s illness and its devastating effect on their closely-knit family.
Although Kira-Kira marks her debut in middle-grade fiction, Cynthia Kadohata has written a novel that will appeal to young and old. In discussing her book, the author says, “I hope readers go away feeling that life is full of hope and beauty...and sometimes sadness. Originally I had told people it’s also a novel about the things you can change, and the things you can’t. Even if you can’t change some things you would like to, life is full of kira-kira.” Through her characters, Kadohata realistically captures not only the experiences of Japanese American families but also the universal challenges facing all families.
Cynthia Kadohata’s writing career essentially began in college when she majored in journalism. After her stories appeared in The New Yorker, Kadohata sent her editor some ideas, and her editor particularly liked her ideas about the characters of Katie and Lynn. From there, the author wrote a proposal that was eventually accepted by Antheneum, a publishing company.
Thankfully, readers of Kira-Kira have much more to look forward to from Cynthia Kadohata. Her next novel, Weedflower, “takes place on a flower farm and later at the Colorado River Relocation Center. It discusses a friendship between a girl who is interned and a young Mohave boy. It also discusses the subjugation of the land by internees. That novel is in unbound galleys and is scheduled for publication in 2006.” She is currently working on the first draft of a novel about the Vietnam War.
Kira-Kira, the 2005 John Newbery Medal winner, is both uplifting and heart wrenching, and in writing it, Cynthia Kadohata has brought kira-kira into the lives of her many grateful readers.