“The dragon is a creature of the sea,” Grandfather said. “When it takes to the sky, it is looking for something precious it has lost. When it finds what it was looking for, it returns to the sea in the form of rain.”
We’re especially excited today to be celebrating the official release of Flying the Dragon by Natalie Dias Lorenzi (Charlesbridge, 2012). Not only is Natalie a Virginia author, but this is her debut middle grade novel. As I always say, no matter how many books you go on to write, or how rich and famous you might become, there will always be only one first book, with its own special brand of pride, joy and feelings of accomplishment. We LOVE to celebrate first books!
Friends, I’m so glad you’re here to join us. Let’s get the party started by suiting up.
First, please select a t-shirt. Depending on your mood, you may feel like building a kite,
or noshing on sushi:
With all the mouthwatering Japanese food in the book, you should probably put this on, too:
Can’t eat a plate of yakisoba without a good pair of chopsticks. Choose your favorite color:
Now, a little about Flying the Dragon:
American-born Skye’s happy, soccer-centric fifth-grade life is upended when her estranged Japanese relatives move to Virginia. Suddenly she is expected to take Japanese lessons (which may jeopardize her chances at playing on the All-Star team) and help her cousin Hiroshi adapt to a new school.
Japan-born Hiroshi is equally upset at moving to a strange country and losing his chance to compete in a long-anticipated rokkaku kite-fighting championship with his grandfather, a former champion/master kite builder whose illness is why the family must move to the United States.
In beautifully crafted alternating chapters, we are privy to both Skye’s and Hiroshi’s feelings, perceptions, frustrations and reactions to this situation, which offers a realistic glimpse of family and school dynamics, cultural clashes, assimilation and searches for identity.
Skye knows a little Japanese; Hiroshi knows a little English. Each is wary of the other, and at first it seems unlikely they could ever get along. Competing for Grandfather’s attention further escalates their mutual resentment. Still, there are moments of gentle humor and empathy, a growing awareness of and respect for cultural heritage and family honor, and an eventual bonding as they work together to build a kite for the cherry blossom festival when Grandfather’s health fails.
There is so much to love about this sensitively written, character-driven novel. I was immediately taken with the fluidity and lyricism of the prose and empathized with Hiroshi and Skye, who are fully realized, flawed, and wholly believable. Their voices ring true and the narrative so skillfully executed that the words disappear and you enter their worlds before you know it.
I don’t think I’ve ever read a better depiction of what it’s like for a foreign student to adjust to an American school — Hiroshi’s feelings of alienation, awkwardness, and frustration are acutely palpable, and the challenges of learning English, especially with regard to idioms and slang native speakers usually take for granted, are well presented and tempered with just the right touch of levity.
And we also have Skye’s point of view, the other side of the coin; for the first time, she’s forced to acknowledge her half-Japanese ancestry as she too, struggles with being viewed differently by her classmates and grapples with being the oldest student in Saturday Japanese class where everyone knows so much more than she does.
Love the focus on communication — where words fail, the heart speaks. It’s so moving to see how Hiroshi and Skye grow and blossom, benefitting from the intangible gifts they unknowingly give each other. And of course the other gift is Grandfather himself, with his wisdom, unconditional love and guidance. Beneath his calm demeanor lies humility born of regret. The healing of old family wounds, interesting information about the ancient sport of rokkaku kite fighting, and the subtleties of Japanese customs and folkways further enrich this lovely, spiritually uplifting story about being caught between cultures.
Flying the Dragon will speak to anyone who’s ever felt like a fish out of water and will likely facilitate a keener awareness and a more open-hearted acceptance of newcomers in similar situations. The author’s many years of experience working with ESL students are evident throughout this much needed resource in today’s ethnically diverse classrooms. The book is a Summer 2012 Kids’ Indie Next List pick and Kirkus has given it a well deserved *starred review*. As for me, I’m happy to give this luminous gem my highest five spoon rating! ☺
Now, please help me congratulate Natalie. Six humble Alphabet Soup kitchen helpers prepared today’s celebration soup while noshing on yomogi mochi and green tea. They are now obsessed with hexagonally-shaped food and have taken to eating six servings of everything. In keeping with Japanese custom, feel free to slurp enthusiastically right from the bowl, the louder, the better.
Omedetou Gozaimasu! Congratulations!!
To go with our soup, freshly grilled yakitori,
and some comforting yakisoba (use your chopsticks!):
Ready for dessert? We have two kinds of cupcakes today.
and Green Tea with Sweet Red Bean Frosting:
If you’re still hungry, help yourself to some soccer cookies:
and of course the aforementioned yomogi mochi:
There now. That should keep you going for at least another fifteen minutes or so. Once you’re done patting the corners of your mouth with your sushi bib, fly on over to your local indie or click through to your fave online bookseller to score your very own copy of Flying the Dragon. If you go to a bricks-and-mortar store, wear something red in honor of both Japan and the U.S. Be sure to bow politely to the cashier and if you’re looking for a discount, don’t forget the secret password: rokkaku.
HAPPY BOOK BIRTHDAY, NATALIE!
WELCOME TO THE WORLD, FLYING THE DRAGON!!
Flying the Dragon by Natalie Dias Lorenzi
published by Charlesbridge, July 2012
Middle Grade Fiction for ages 9-12, 240 pp.
Cool themes: Japanese Americans, families, grandparents, kites, English as a Second Language, diversity, schools, friendship, cousins, Virginia, moving, culture shock, immigration.
♥ EMU Launch Week blog posts:
- Fly, Dragon, Fly! Interviews with Emily Mitchell (editor) and Erin Murphy (agent)
- Multicultural Living: It’s Not Just for Skye and Hiroshi Anymore by Jeannie Mobley
- Helping Non-native English Speakers Take Flight by Jeanne Ryan
- Interview with cover artist Kelly Murphy by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
- Interview with kite-fighting expert David Bomberg by Peter Adam Salomon + a Santa Duck and Zombie Buddy video by Mike Jung.
♥ Other Interviews:
♥ Blog Reviews:
- Secrets & Sharing Soda
- Asian Mommy
- Helen’s Book Blog
- This Kid Reviews Books
- Word Spelunking
- Jenny’s Book Review
♥ Professional Reviews:
♥ Related Activities for the book at Pinterest (Paint Cherry Blossoms, Make Your Own Rokkaku Kite, Info about Cherry Blossoms and Washi paper)
♥ Check out this video for some footage of rokkaku kite fighting taken at the National Kite Festival in Washington, D.C.:
Arigato Gozaimasu! Thank You Very Much!
♥ More Soup of the Day posts here.
*Adult Sushi Bib by GrandmaAndBabyTurtle/Etsy
*Sushi T-shirt available at It’s T-Shirt Time.com
**Dragon Rokkaku via Drachen Foundation
***Cherry Blossoms via davidyuweb
****Soccer O-Bento by rabbitcancook
Copyright © 2012 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.