Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Upping My Diversity Reads This Month With Jasmine Toguchi

Multicultural Children's Book Day is January 29th. This event motivated me to seek out some diverse reading instead of just randomly reading whatever drops into my lap.

I began with Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen by Debbi Michiko Florence with illustrations by Elizabet Vukovic.  This is the first in a chapter book series about a Japanese-American girl. The family is getting ready to celebrate Japanese New Year, which involves getting together to make mochi, a type of rice cake. It seems to take a great deal of effort.

As a nondiverse reader, what I look for in a diverse book is a situation that is new to me with a story line or character that is somehow universal. Jasmine Toguchi Mochi Queen has both those things. I knew nothing about Japanese New Year or mochi before I read this book. At the same time, Jasmine's issues with her place within her family transcend culture.

This is a girl chapter book series, something that I think has kind of been a thing over the years. I was reminded of Junie B. Jones by Barbara Park. When I read one of the Junie books back in 2005, I found Junie a little too wise. "Though she is definitely funny, the humor to me seems adult. I don't think she talks like a true funny first grader, she talks like an adult's idea of a funny first grader. She's a little over the top."  When I tried one of the Celementine books by Sara Pennypacker in 2007, I thought it seemed a lot like Junie B. Jones, but with better grammar. I found both girls "cute the way adults like kids to be cute. They're cute like the youngest kid in a sitcom family--not the older wiseass kid, but the one who says oddly adorable things that have some kind of significance."

That's not the case with this first JasmineToguchi book. Jasmine seems very much like a real girl responding to a real situation in a realistic way and sounding like a real girl. For that reason, this book seems more child-oriented than other girl chapter books I've read.

I'm planning on recommending this book to an eight-year-old family member, or maybe even getting it for him for Easter. I'll be interested to see what a boy thinks of Jasmine.

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