Saturday, July 21, 2018

Newbery Mini Reviews: Kira-Kira || The Tale Of Despereaux

One of my goals is to read all of the Newbery winners. Here are two winners I finished recently.

Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata

Pages: 244
Genre: Middle grade historical fiction
Publication date: February 2004

Glittering. That's how Katie Takeshima's sister, Lynn, makes everything seem. The sky is kira-kira because its color is deep but see-through at the same time. The sea is kira-kira for the same reason and so are people's eyes. When Katie and her family move from a Japanese community in Iowa to the Deep South of Georgia, it's Lynn who explains to her why people stop on the street to stare, and it's Lynn who, with her special way of viewing the world, teaches Katie to look beyond tomorrow, but when Lynn becomes desperately ill, and the whole family begins to fall apart, it is up to Katie to find a way to remind them all that there is always something glittering—kira-kira—in the future.

The Good: Let’s be honest: I mostly read this book because it has the same name as my dog. That’s a terrible reason to read a book, but whatever. How often do you come across a book with your dog’s name on the cover? I had to read it.

Kira-Kira has nothing to do with dogs. It’s about a poor Japanese-American family in the 1950s. In order to keep their house, the parents have to work long hours at a chicken hatchery and processing plant. Their middle daughter, Katie, is left to care for her younger brother and her older sister, who has lymphoma. Katie is an easy character to love. She’s realistic. She cares about her siblings, but sometimes she gets stressed out and blows up at them. No one in her life seems to realize what she’s going through. She faces racism at school and constantly gets in trouble for not finishing her homework. She tries to keep everyone happy, but that’s not possible. There’s only so much a girl can take.

Katie’s story is set against a backdrop of rural 1950s Georgia. At that time, workers’ rights weren’t really a thing. Katie’s parents work a lot of hours for very little money. Her mother is forced to wear a diaper to work because she’s not allowed to have bathroom breaks. While Katie is trying to keep things together at home, her parents are dealing with demanding bosses and the pressure to join the brand new workers’ union.

Some days I think she was really miserable, because she cried a lot. In a way, I'd had to steel my heart to her crying. You need to steel yourself to a lot of things when someone in your family is really sick.Kira-Kira

The Bad: The beginning is slow and meandering. The pacing picks up at the end, but I spent most of the book wondering when something big was going to happen. The story mostly follows Katie through her daily life. Her daily life isn’t that interesting. It doesn’t help that the older sister’s impending death is extremely obvious. So, the plot is slow and predictable.

I wouldn’t have noticed this as a kid, but I’m over the whole dying-person-teaches-everyone-to-appreciate-life cliché. I’ve seen it a lot in children’s books.

The Bottom Line: As an adult reader, I can appreciate the struggles of Katie and her parents. If I was a kid, I think the pacing would have been too slow to hold my attention.

Random photo of my dog (who has nothing to do with this book).

The Tale Of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

Pages: 272
Genre: Middlegrade fantasy
Publication date: August 2003

Welcome to the story of Despereaux Tilling, a mouse who is in love with music, stories, and a princess named Pea. It is also the story of a rat called Roscuro, who lives in the darkness and covets a world filled with light. And it is the story of Miggery Sow, a slow-witted serving girl who harbors a simple, impossible wish. These three characters are about to embark on a journey that will lead them down into a horrible dungeon, up into a glittering castle, and, ultimately, into each other's lives.

The Good: Since I’m a very serious grownup, I’m naturally skeptical of talking animal stories, but this book is adorable! Not only is it adorable, but it has depth. Who knew that was possible?

For an adult, this novel is a quick read. It has a lot of pages, but the font is huge, and there are pictures. I finished it in an afternoon. It’s about a mouse who wants to be a knight, a servant girl who wants to be a princess, and a rat who wants out of the dungeons. When the kingdom’s princess is kidnapped, the three characters’ paths inadvertently cross.

On the surface, this is a fast-paced adventure story about kidnap and rescue. Underneath, there is a lot going on. The three main characters are outcasts in their various societies. They’re overlooked, underestimated, and mistrusted. They’re not treated nicely by the people (and rats and mice) around them. They’re all trying to improve their lives. Deep down, this is a story about desire and forgiveness. Sometimes, when creatures really want something, they do bad things to get it. Making a mistake doesn’t automatically mean that someone is evil. None of the characters in this story are perfect. They all make mistakes and choose to forgive each other for them.

Love, as we have already discussed, is a powerful, wonderful, ridiculous thing, capable of moving mountains. And spools of thread. - The Tale Of Despereaux

The Bad: Insta-love. I know that this is a kids’ book, and kids don’t usually care about love stories, but I questioned Despereaux’s dedication to Princess Pea. He sees her once and is suddenly in love with her. He’s willing to break mouse laws to speak with her. I understand that he’s obsessed with stories about bravery, but you can’t protect a princess if your own people execute you for speaking to her.

I wonder if some kids would be confused by the nonlinear structure. The structure jumps backward and forward in time to tell the stories of the three characters. The narrator is intrusive (like a fairytale narrator) and tries to make the timeline clear to the reader, but it’s still a very tangled timeline. 

The Bottom Line: A lively tale about forgiveness and flaws and how good people (and mice and rats) sometimes do bad things. I loved it. 


  1. Awww, your pup is cute, but the namesake book sounds sort of depressing. Why do they write so many depressing kid books? Despereaux is a classic. I did NOT read the book, but I saw the movie. (I know it's not the same, but I get the general idea).

  2. Kira Kira sounds interesting (and now that I find myself in Georgia...) And you’re dog is beautiful!

    Blogging mostly these days at

  3. Haven’t read either but I think I would read Despereaux out loud to a child. That way we can talk about what’s happening. Great picks! ♥️

    1. Yes! It would be a perfect read aloud book. It’s fast-paced and has pretty pictures.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

  4. It's never a terrible reason to read a book because it has the same name as your dog! My dog is named Kennedy, so I'm sure I could find a lot of JFK books out there. ;)

    I don't think either of these would be a good fit for me. I'm not a fan of slow and meandering, and insta-love in a children's book sets unrealistic expectations.

    𑁋 Lindsi @ Do You Dog-ear?

    1. I imagine that there are a lot of books called Kennedy. Trying to read them all would keep you busy.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

  5. I loved the movie of The Tale of Despereaux, and have been meaning to read the novel. Thank you for reminding me of it!

  6. That is one thing that confuses me about a lot of Newbery winners, it seems like the theme or the message is the only thing they take into consideration, and not whether the book will actually be of interest or appealing to a 7-11 year old. What good is it having a message or a teaching moment if the kid is going to drop it like a hot potato because the first part of the book is boring? I haven't read Kira-Kira yet, but I did read The Tale of Despereux.

    1. A lot of the Newbery winners confuse me. There are so many slow, dense winners that I never would have read as a kid.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

  7. What a cute doggo! Also thats a cool goal you have there. The Tales of Despereux sounds like a cute read. Great reviews!