Written by Chieri Uegaki, Illustrated by Stéphane Jorisch
Kids Can Press, 2003
On the first day of school, Suki wanted to wear her kimono. Her sisters did not approve.
The plot in a nutshell: A girl celebrates her Japanese heritage
Suki’s sisters tell her that everyone will laugh at her if she wears her kimono to school and they suggest new cooler clothes. But she loves her kimono because it was a gift from her Obasan (grandmother), when they had a wonderful day together at a Japanese street festival. On the way to school, Suki’s sisters walk ahead of her and pretend not to know her. Once at school, other kids laugh and point at her, but she ignores them. Her friend, Penny, asks her why she’s dressed funny and Suki tells her that she’s not. They play together and Penny chooses a desk next to Suki in their classroom. When the students are introducing themselves and telling what they did over the summer, Suki tells the class about the festival and demonstrates some Japanese dancing. At first, some of the students chuckle, but then they get interested and at the end of the dance, they applaud for her. On the way home, Suki’s sisters complain that no one noticed their new clothes and Suki smiles and dances as she walks home.
Suki’s Kimono is the first book from Japanese/Canadian author Chiere Uegaki. She entered this story in a children’s writing competition and although she didn’t win the competition, the story was passed on to a publisher. The story showcases her Japanese heritage and uses several Japanese words, which are defined for the reader on the acknowledgements page. My oldest daughter, who speaks Japanese, chose this book for me to review (and I think the inclusion of Japanese words was a strong contributing factor).
The watercolor artwork from Stéphane Jorisch has a very Japanese brush art feel to it, which helps bring the story to life. Although some objects in the pictures are drawn without a lot of definition, Suki and her kimono are always sharply detailed. The book’s messages, about being proud of your heritage and not being afraid to be different, are well conveyed and not overly didactic. I thought it was a nice touch at the end of the book when Suki’s sisters (who had been so critical of her choice at the beginning) were disappointed at the lukewarm reception for their ‘cool’ clothes, Suki didn’t feel the need to say anything snarky to them. And her response to Penny’s question about why she’s dressed funny (“I’m not.”) is simple, positive and affirming. This was a really good book.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that trying to be cool is not nearly as impressive as just being yourself.