Yoko is so excited for the first day of school. She’s just learned to write her name. But when Mrs. Jenkins asks Yoko to show everyone, Olive and Sylvia make fun of her Japanese writing. “Yoko can’t write. She’s only scribbling!” The teasing continues as Yoko shares her favorite book at show and tell, and reads it back to front.
That evening, Yoko declares that she can’t go back to school. “How can I when my reading and writing are a failure?” she asks. Luckily a little wisdom from her Mama, a little cooperation from Mrs. Jenkins, and a lot of enthusiasm from her classmates teach Yoko the most important lesson of the year: that friendship can bridge cultural differences.
Not only does Yoko learn to read and write in English and graduate Kindergarten with her classmates, but everyone’s name appears in two languages on their diploma even Olive’s and Sylvia’s!
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PreSchool-Grade 2—The endearing kitten introduced in Yoko (1998) and Yoko's Paper Cranes (2001, both Hyperion) returns in this lovely story illustrating the challenges facing young children who are bridging two cultures. Life for Yoko in the first week of school is anything but positive. In the eyes of the other children, her Japanese characters look like "baby marks," her numbers are just lines, and she "pretends" to read a book as she pages through it right to left instead of left to right. Olive and Sylvia decide that Yoko won't graduate from kindergarten, and soon the child is unhappily refusing her favorite sushi. Even with the considerate assistance of insightful Mrs. Jenkins and the support of her mother, the situation is not improved until a fellow student steps in. Angelo recognizes Yoko's characters as a secret language, and when she writes his name in Japanese, he shows her how to write the ABC's. After only a bit more classroom drama, all ends well with a kindergarten graduation and bilingual diplomas. This is a carefully crafted picture book with Asian-inspired illustrations that delight the eye just as the gentle story soothes the soul.—Piper Nyman, Brookmeade Elementary School, Nashville, TN
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*Starred Review* When Yoko writes her name in Japanese instead of English, two classmates mock her and gleefully predict, “She won’t graduate from kindergarten.” Worried, Yoko hides under a table and is discovered by Angelo, who wants to learn how to write Japanese. In return, he shows her how to write her name “in ABCs.” Soon the entire class is learning how to write Japanese words, and graduation day has a distinctive Asian flavor, cheering even Yoko’s tormentors. In the sunny illustrations, Japanese and English labels on familiar objects invite children to write in both languages. Any child who has coped with being different, especially those from other cultures, will identify with Yoko’s painfully realistic dilemma, and others will understand Yoko’s palpable fear of failure. Once again, Yoko shares her Japanese culture in a story that can spark discussions about accepting and honoring differences. Meaningful and delightful in equal measure. Preschool-Grade 2. --Linda Perkins
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