A Guide for Reading Groups
KIRA - KIRA
By Cynthia Kadohata
About the Book
Katie Takeshima is about to enter kindergarten in the 1950s,
when her parents close their Oriental foods grocery store in Iowa
and move to Chesterfield, Georgia to work in a chicken hatchery.
Uncle Kutsuhisa helps them move into a small apartment complex
where other Japanese families live, and they begin a long struggle
toward saving money to purchase a house of their own. The working
conditions are almost intolerable at the hatchery, and the
Takeshima children experience prejudices at school, but the small
community of Japanese families band together and support one
another in their daily lives. Because Mr. and Mrs. Takeshima work
double shifts, Katie and her younger brother, Sammy, are left in
the care of their older sister Lynn. Katie believes that Lynn is a
"genius" and listens as her sister encourages her to look beyond
tomorrow. But there is no tomorrow for Lynn. When she is fourteen,
and Katie ten, Lynn becomes ill with lymphoma and ultimately dies.
At this point, the Takeshima family almost falls apart, but Katie
remembers Lynn''s special way of looking at life, and finds a way
to show her parents that there is always hope and something
glittering - kira-kira in their future.
About the Author
Cynthia Kadohata is the author of the Newbery Award winner and
New York Times bestseller Kira-Kira, her debut
novel for children. She has also published three novels for adults,
including The Floating World, for which she was named a
Whiting Fellow. Her short stories have been published in The
New Yorker, Grand Street Magazine, and Ploughshares.
A graduate of the University of Southern California, she has taken
graduate courses in writing at the University of Pittsburgh and
Columbia University. A great deal of Cynthia''s writing inspiration
comes from her travels across America: as a child her family lived
in Georgia and Arkansas before settling in Chicago, and as an
adult, she explored the states on a Greyhound bus. She currently
lives with her son in California. Her next book for children,
Weedflower, will be published by Atheneum in Spring
Kira-kira means "glittering" in Japanese. Ask students
to write a one page description of something that is
kira-kira to them. Examples may include the ocean, stars,
the moon, the morning dew on the grass, a dancer under a spotlight,
etc. Invite them to share their writing in class.
Mrs. Takeshima is troubled at how "un-Japanese" her daughters
seem, and vows to one day send them back to Japan. Debate how
difficult it was in the early 1950s to belong to one culture and
live in another. Why is Mrs. Takeshima so fearful that her
daughters will lose their sense of heritage? Discuss customs that
the Takeshima family practices that demonstrates the family''s
loyalty to their native culture.
Katie describes her mother as "a delicate, rare and beautiful
flower." Find examples in the novel that support Katie''s
description of her mother.
Discuss Katie and Lynn''s relationship. Why does Katie feel
that her parents like Lynn best? It is Lynn who tells Katie that
they are moving to Georgia, and it is Lynn who tells her that their
mother is pregnant. Why do Mr. and Mrs. Takeshima leave such
important discussions up to Lynn? At what point do Lynn and Katie
Describe the friendship that develops between Lynn and Amber.
What does Katie mean when she says "Amber broke ranks and became
Lynn''s first best friend?" Why does Amber drop Lynn as a friend?
Discuss why Katie is so hurt that Amber doesn''t come to Lynn''s
funeral. Contrast Katie and Silly''s friendship with Lynn and
What is Uncle Katsuhisa''s role in the family? Katsu
means triumph in Japanese. How does Uncle Katsuhisa live up to his
name? Katie finds it difficult to see that her father and uncle are
brothers. Contrast their personalities. What does Mrs. Takeshima
mean when she says that Uncle Katsuhisa "didn''t look before he
Hitting, stealing, and lying are the three worst crimes to Mr.
and Mrs. Takeshima. How does Katie commit each of these crimes in
the course of the novel? Discuss the scene where Katie steals pink
nail polish for Lynn. How does she justify this crime to herself?
Discuss why Katie''s crime makes her mother feel that the family is
Lynn wakes up crying one night and says that in her dream she
is swimming in the ocean. How does this dream foreshadow her death?
Discuss the symbolism of the brown moth in Lynn''s bedroom on the
night she dies.
Describe the sense of community among the Japanese families in
Chesterfield, Georgia. Mr. Kanagawa is considered the leader of the
community. How is his leadership revealed in the novel? How does
Lynn become the leader of the children in the community?
Prejudice is an underlying theme in the novel. The first time
that Katie experiences prejudice is at the motel in Tennessee when
her family is moving to Georgia. Why does Mr. Takeshima quietly
give in to the motel clerk and take the room in the back? How does
Lynn help Katie understand the prejudices that she will experience
at school? Discuss why the Japanese mothers cut and curl their
daughters'' hair when they begin school. Debate whether they really
believe that changing the girls'' appearance will make them fit in,
and suffer less acts of prejudice.
Discuss the meaning of the word "exploit." How does Mr. Lyndon
exploit the workers at the hatchery? Some of the workers are trying
to unionize so that they can demand better working conditions. Mrs.
Takeshima stays away from them because she feels that it is wrong
to fight the people who are trying to help you. Why does she feel
that Mr. Lyndon is trying to help them? Why do Mr. and Mrs.
Takeshima decide to attend the pro-union meeting at the end of the
Discuss how the trip to California helps Katie come to terms
with Lynn''s death. How does she help her parents deal with their
What are the elements of hope in the novel?
Research & Activities
Mrs. Takeshima feels that her girls must return to Japan to
learn about their femininity. Research the role of women in Japan
today. Write a brief article that might appear in a book called
Women in Other Cultures.
Brenda Swamp, named for a ten-year-old girl who died there, is
near Chesterfield and is the subject of a local ghost story. Write
and illustrate a story titled "Brenda" that Katie might one day
read to Sammy.
Katie has to answer three questions about a story her class
reads. Apply the same questions to Kira-Kira and write the
answers in three paragraphs.
What is the author trying to say in the scene where Mr.
Takeshima confesses to Mr. Lyndon that he bashed his car?
What is the theme of the story?
How does the main character change at the end of the
Katie notices that her parents work all the time and never
take time to relax and have fun. Research the ritual of the
Japanese tea ceremony (known as chanoyu or
chado). Plan a tea ceremony that Katie might have for her
Katie gives one of the eulogies at Lynn''s funeral but sits
down before she tells a special memory of Lynn. Write about a
special memory of Lynn that Katie might have included in the
Silly Kilgore''s mother holds a pro-union meeting at her house
at the end of the summer. Have the class plan this meeting.
Instruct the speakers to point out the poor working conditions,
long hours, safety issues, and low pay. Such meetings are only for
the workers, but suggest that one student give a speech from Katie
Takeshima''s point of view.
Lynn always wanted to go to the ocean in California. Write a
haiku titled "Kira-Kira" that Katie might write and
dedicate to Lynn after her family returns from the west coast.
It is a Japanese custom to purchase souvenirs (or
omiyage) from places they have traveled. Write a
description of a souvenir that Katie might bring from California to
put at Lynn''s grave.
By Cynthia Kadohata
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Winner of the Newbery Medal
An ALA Notable Children''s Book
A New York Times Bestseller
AVAILABLE WHEREVER BOOKS ARE SOLD
Simon & Schuster Children''s Publishing
1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020
This reading group guide has been provided by Simon &
Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be
reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.
Prepared by Pat Scales, Director of Library Services, SC
Governor''s School for the Arts and Humanities, Greenville.