To learn more about Book Spotlight, read this first.
Thank You Very Mochi, written by Paul Matsushima, Sophie Wang, and Craig Ishii, and illustrated by Jing Zheng, is a heartfelt story of mochitsuki as a Japanese American family tradition.
What I liked:
- This book is published by Kizuna, an LA-based organization dedicated to supporting the JA/Nikkei community. Both the story and the multi-author team echo this collaborative, community-focused theme. I’d like to see more Nikkei publications in this vein, especially now when it often feels as if our community is fragmenting in certain respects. Kizuna itself is focused on JA/Nikkei residents of SoCal – as far as I know, no Bay Area JA/Nikkei organization has published a similar book, but I haven’t researched this as thoroughly as I should.
- The warm, bright colors in Zheng’s illustrations feel incredibly family-friendly. In fact, the book as a whole felt very comfortable to me, even though the mochitsuki represented here differed in some ways from the one my parents host every year. I like to think someone – Zheng, maybe? – thought about the best way to make the story relatable to a wide range of Nikkei readers while knowing it centers a tradition which can vary greatly from family to family.
- On a related note, the (more or less) grayscale illustrations depicting flashbacks to Grandpa’s time in camp were also very effective, particularly when juxtaposed with the full-color illustrations depicting present-day scenes. The visual contrast not only alerts the reader to a temporal change, but also evokes an emotional shift in the story. Even young Nikkei readers who may not know about the camps might ask about the change in color, which in turn could open important conversations about family history.
- Did any fellow Nikkei readers notice how this book is basically a young readers’ edition of Debbi Michiko Florence’s Jasmine Toguchi series? Come to think of it, I would love to read a curated blog series featuring Nikkei writers from various backgrounds discussing how they choose to represent Japanese/Nikkei traditions in their work and why. I think of Nina Li Coomes’s article series on Japanese words (in Catapult?) – I’d like to see blog posts written with Coomes’s level of detail and insight, but maybe on a site run by Japanese/Nikkei staff?
- Kimi has a multiracial family! I’m glad this element was included, especially for the sake of any young Nikkei readers with multiracial families.
- The mochi-related illustrations on the inside of the cover are adorable – and also a simple, appealing way to educate the reader without making them consult a glossary.
- Kimi’s bedroom is such a JA/Nikkei room! Even though my childhood bedroom didn’t look exactly like hers, I understand the context being referenced and I suspect many other JA/Nikkei readers will feel the same.
What I learned:
- Furikake…on mochi? Is this an LA thing? A SoCal thing? Who does this?! I’m fascinated, but not quite enough to try it myself. Moments like this really make me wonder to what extent JA/Nikkei cuisine differs by region. Hawaii, yes, but within the continental US – what kinds of variations exist in dishes we might consider traditionally Japanese? Has any Nikkei scholar written about how the regional roots of Issei (and their respective local cuisines) subsequently shaped variations in Nikkei cuisine?
Questions I had:
- Where is the kinako?! (And on top of this, why is there furikake??!!) I’m not criticizing, just befuddled.
- I ask this question every time it comes up in a book – why did the authors choose to italicize the Japanese words in the text? Does italicization make reading easier for young audiences? At the same time, this presupposes an English-centric education – the more sustainable solution would be to normalize multilingual education from grade one. The challenge here is probably to normalize the non-Anglicized pronunciation of non-English words – after all, look what happened to the pronunciation of “Tokyo,” a word which I’ve noticed is rarely, if ever, italicized in English these days, but also never pronounced correctly.
- Now that I’m thinking about Nikkei organizations publishing books, it would be terrific to see a JA Buddhist temple produce a picture book about their annual mochitsuki. Also, I hope there are Nikkei picture book creators working on projects about Japanese schools, taiko groups, and Obon festivals affiliated with our temples.