Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen (Jasmine Toguchi #1) by Debbi Michiko Florence, illustrated by Elizabet Vukovic.
Farrar Straus Giroux, Macmillian, New York, 2017.
Elementary fiction, 115 pages.
Lexile: 560L .
AR Level: 3.6 (worth 1.0 points) .
Jasmine and her Japanese-American family are getting ready for the New Year. That means lots of cousins, mochi-tsuki, Obaachan coming to visit, and two more years before Jasmine is old enough to make mochi with the women. Rather than wait two whole years, she has an idea…
In the last few years we’ve been seeing a big rise in the number of early elementary chapter book series featuring diverse characters, and I am over the moon about it. As you’ve heard me rant before, it’s crucial to have diverse books at every reading level, including the very earliest. Working a little understanding of different cultures, cuisines, and lifestyles into early fiction also helps students out when they later encounter the same topics in middle school or high school, and it sets a foundation for tolerance and acceptance.
Series like this one are particularly great because they can be read aloud to children over a range of ages, and information about Japanese-American culture is seamlessly woven into the storyline.
The interactions in this are adorable and feel very real, from Jasmine’s older sister Sophie to her various cousins or her Obaachan. Whether it’s her unrealized dream of having a pet flamingo or her anger over not being old enough to help with mochi, everyone will find something to relate to in Jasmine’s narration.
Only one character felt a bit off, which was the elderly neighbor Mrs. Reese. I suppose there are still places where neighborhoods are like that and kids can pop over next door for a brownie, but it felt out of place in this otherwise very modern novel. A very sweet anachronism though!
I did wish this had gone a little more into the background of mochi, but I suppose that is asking a bit much of an elementary novel. Some information about Japanese New Year’s was included so this would make a great seasonal read, but it wasn’t a totally themed read – you could use it as a read-aloud at other times of year too. Spoiler It was surprising that Jasmine’s family is traditional enough to make mochi by hand but were willing to let her pound it! However I loved that they were willing to put aside their traditional understanding of gender roles for the best interest of the child. / end of spoiler
The black and white illustrations are nice. Very expressive, they compliment the story well and add to the experience. While they weren’t particularly memorable, there also weren’t any places that I noticed any missteps. It’s clear that Vukovic read the book and used the descriptions given for her artwork. The style reminded me a bit of LeUyen Pham, but it didn’t resonate with me quite as much.
Recommended. As you might guess, I definitely recommend this book, and we’ll be looking forward to reading the next one in this series, which now has four books. I hope to continue to see more and more of these diverse early elementary series. This is a great addition to our shelf. Although I haven’t yet used it as a read-aloud, it seems like it would make a good one. The chapters are a good length and longer ones are broken down into separate scenes. While anyone can find something to relate to in Jasmine, younger siblings in particular will relate to this book about wishing to be first at something for once.