Cynthia Kadohata

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The first word I learned was kira-kira. Glittering in Japanese. My sister Lynn taught me the word, as we lie looking up at the stars. I used kira-kira to describe everything I liked: the beautiful sky, puppies, kittens, butterflies, colored Kleenex and especially my sister Lynn. My mother was dismayed at how un-Japanese my sister and I were. What could she expect living in a town of over 4000 people, only 31 of which were Japanese like us? We moved to Georgia when I was a child. I acquired a Georgian Southern drawl by the time I was ready to start school. In my neighborhood I was kind of a celebrity, the Japanese girl who said y'all rather than you. Sometimes people would pay me to talk to them. My sister encouraged this small enterprise and it wasn't long before we were rich. Lynn and I spent most of our time together. Then Sammy was born. Lynn looked after me, I looked after Sammy and we all looked after each other. My parents worked long hours at the hatchery and the chicken processing plant. We were saving to buy a house for Lynn. Lynn's anemia seemed to get worse everyday. Sometimes she would just stay in bed, pale and frail against the white sheets. I tried to be good like Lynn. My parents told us that hitting was the worse thing that you could do. Stealing was the second worse thing and lying was the third. By the time I was twelve I had committed all of these crimes. I wanted to be good like Lynn. Lynn taught me everything. Lynn was a genius. I know this because one time I asked her if she was a genius and she told me "Yes, Katie. I am." When Lynn became really sick my family started to fall apart. That's when it became up to me, Katie, to find something kira-kira for us all to believe in.

Discussion questions

Spoiler alert! Some of the questions contain key elements of the plot. Do not read if you don't want to know what happens!

  1. Name something in your life you would describe as kira-kira. What makes it "glittering" to you?
  2. Discuss the decision of the parents not to tell Katie the truth about Lynn's illness. What do you think would be different about the story if Katie knew how sick her sister is? Would you want to know if it was your sibling?
  3. How does being Japanese affect the character's lives? Has there ever been a time when you experienced prejudice?
  4. Discuss the relationship between Lynn and Katie. Katie says, "Lynn took care of me. I took care of Sammy. And we all took care of one another," 59. How does this change as the story progresses?
  5. Compare and contrast the friendship between Lynn and Amber and Katie and Silly. Have you ever had a best friend? Have you ever been disappointed by your friends?
  6. Discuss the meaning of the word "exploit." Is Mr. Lyndon exploiting the workers at the hatchery? Why is Mrs. Takeshima resistant to participating in meetings to create a union? 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 novel?
  7. How does Katie change throughout the book? What do you think Katie's future will be like? Why do you think that?

If you liked this book, try

  • Walk Softly, Rachel by Kate Banks
  • Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff
  • Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse
  • Wait for Me by An Na
  • Bat 6 by Virginia Euwer Wolff
  • Sweetgrass Basket by Marlene Carvell


Try Peeps, chicken-flavored crackers, scrambled eggs and powered sugar doughnuts.

Created in part with funds granted by the Oregon State Library under the Library Services and Technology Act, administered by the Oregon State Library.