soup of the day: flying the dragon by natalie dias lorenzi

“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.”

Konnichiwa! Hello!


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:

Lookin’ good!

Can’t eat a plate of yakisoba without a good pair of chopsticks. Choose your favorite color:

All set?

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.

Rokkakus are traditional six-sided Japanese fighting kites. They are often decorated with beautiful designs of Samurai, folklore heroes, geometric shapes or symbolic natural elements (via Gomberg Kite Productions International).

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.

“Holding the dragon kite in his hands felt like holding a piece of home.”

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.

Just for Skye

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!!

Today’s Special: Rising Sun Soup (seasoned with high-flying family love and garnished with rokkaku crackers)


To go with our soup, freshly grilled yakitori,

via Quick Bite

and some comforting yakisoba (use your chopsticks!):

via eleurant33


Ready for dessert? We have two kinds of cupcakes today.

Cherry blossom,

via flickan and kokorna

and Green Tea with Sweet Red Bean Frosting:

via Cupcakes Take the Cake

If you’re still hungry, help yourself to some soccer cookies:

via dazzle design

and of course the aforementioned yomogi mochi:

Hiroshi’s mother Naoko offers these to Skye.


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.



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.



♥ Natalie Dias Lorenzi official website and blog, Biblio Links

♥ EMU Launch Week blog posts:

♥ Other Interviews:

Guest Post by Natalie at Krazy Book Lady: “Diversity in Fiction”

♥ Blog Reviews:

♥ Professional Reviews:

Flying the Dragon Facebook Page

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.:


“Reaching in with her other hand, she pulled out a twig with three perfect cherry blossoms. . . These must have been the blossoms that Grandfather had given her a week ago. But that was impossible — the fragile flowers should have withered and died after a week in her jacket pocket . . . But there they were, as fresh and delicate and pink as if they had just been picked.”

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

**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.

19 thoughts on “soup of the day: flying the dragon by natalie dias lorenzi

  1. Very excited to get my hands on this for a lovely mid-summer hammock read! Congrats Natalie!


    1. You are right, Erik! This *is* a great book, and it’s so cool that you were the first to review it on your blog :). Japanese food is my favorite; glad you liked all the dishes.


      1. Jama, this is an incredible gift–thank you! On a 100-degree day in the middle of a power outage, your review is a breath of fresh air. 🙂


      2. I’m so sorry your book launch party had to be postponed. I’m honored to share your wonderful book here at Alphabet Soup. Much needed and much loved!


  2. I have to be careful what time of day I read your posts. This is not the time I should want to raid the fridge! (Especially since, due to the power outage, there is NOTHING IN IT.) Great post! Congratulations Natalie!


    1. So sorry to hear about the outage. The storm’s severity caught everyone by surprise. Unfortunate that Natalie’s launch party had to be postponed! Thanks for stopping by to read despite the problems.


  3. Looks like a wonderful book about those ‘fish out of water’ Jama, & books I believe every teacher and student should read, to enjoy of course, but also to step inside another person’s shoes. Congratulations Natalie on your book. Jama made it sound quite delicious!


    1. Absolutely right, Linda — it’s so important to foster understanding and acceptance of others, and the ability to step inside another’s shoes is key. This book does just that without being preachy or heavy-handed. Readers will naturally want to spend more time with Hiroshi and Skye and will care about them from the get-go.


  4. Wow, what a gorgeous, amazing post about a gorgeous, amazing book. I just loved looking at the pictures. It’s made me hungry for sushi for breakfast even! The soccer balls are adorable. And your review is just great.


  5. I learned about this book through Erik! And I’m so glad to see that you featured it here as well, Jama. 🙂 I’m excited to read it!


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