I have a great multi-cultural middle grade book to share today. It is Flying The Dragon by Natalie Dias Lorenzi, and published by Charlesbridge.
The Story- Skye is Japanese-American. She lives with her mom and dad in Virginia and has a typical pre-teen life. Hiroshi is Skye’s cousin who moves from Japan with his family because their grandfather is sick and needs medical care.
At first, Skye has a hard time relating to Hiroshi. He is just so Japanese. And suddenly, Skye is not Japanese enough. Hiroshi and Grandfather share a special connection trough kite building. Hiroshi was just ready to compete and probably win the kite flying contest back in Japan, before the move. Now, he has to split his valuable time with grandpa with learning to fit in with Skye.
Together Skye and Hiroshi learn lessons about life, family and forgiveness.
My Thoughts- This is a great multi-cultural book filled with beautiful images and information about Japan. The chapters switch from Skye’s POV to Hirsoshi’s POV, which really lets the reader get inside the heads of two kids from very different backgrounds. I found it very special that the last chapter is told from both of their POV’s, a symbolic binding of the cousins.
The author does a wonderful job crafting a middle grade story that will open the eyes for many readers about a culture other than their own.
I had a chance to ask the author a few questions, so continue reading.
1. Your detailed look into Japanese culture is amazing- Where did you learn or gather your info?
Thank you! It was important to me to include authentic details that would ring true to readers familiar with the Japanese language and culture, and would provide an accurate picture for readers who are not.
I lived in Yokohama, Japan for two years, and some of the details in the story are based on my experiences there. However, I didn’t have a firm idea of what day-to-day life is like for a typical Japanese family. I researched extensively online, including a blog (that no longer exists) written by an American woman living in Japan whose children attended the local Japanese school.
Once the manuscript was finished, two Japanese teachers from Japanese language immersion elementary schools in my district offered to look over my story, and I’m glad they did! They caught several mistakes with Japanese words and phrases that I’d used, and helped with cultural elements, as well.
As far as the kite-fighting element in the story, the only thing I knew about the sport was what I’d read in Khaled Houssani’s novel The Kite Runner, but the idea of kite-fighting fascinated me. I dug around and did some research in order to write an article on the history of kite-fighting for a children’s magazine called Learning through History. To hone the kite flying and fighting scenes in Flying the Dragon, though, I knew I’d have to dig deeper. I read Linda Sue Park’s middle grade historical novel The Kite Fighters, and noticed in her acknowledgements that she’d thanked a man named Davide Gomberg, then president of the American Kitefliers Association.
I emailed him and he was incredibly generous with his time and expertise. He also put me in contact with Harold Ames, who had won the Smithsonian Rokkaku Challenge (now called the Cherry Blossom Rokkaku Battle), the same event that my main characters, Hiroshi and Skye, enter at the end of the book.
2.How long did it take you to write this book? What were some of the struggles?
With so many hours of research, the first completed draft took about a year. Once I signed with my agent, I revised a bit more (maybe a month’s work) before it went out on submission. When that first manuscript didn’t sell, we pulled it and started talking revision. Once we decided to have Skye become the second main character and to have the chapters alternate between her point of view and Hiroshi’s, that revision was huge—more like a rewrite. I took about two years of on and off revisions—mostly off, since I’d gone back to teaching after being home with our kids for four years, and we then moved back from Italy to the US, so my writing time during that period was sporadic. Once the final revision was completed, though, it sold within a few months.
Aside from the research, one struggle for me was with Hiroshi’s point of view—the character who moves from Japan to the United States. As an ESL teacher, I’ve worked with many new immigrant children over the years, so I knew some of the roadblocks he would run into—American slang, different school routines, etc. But the way he reacted to those roadblocks had to stay within the confines of his culture. Whereas some kids might react to frustration by lashing out—maybe crying or stomping out of the room, for example, Hiroshi would never do that. I had to make him relatable to American readers, yet still keep him 100% Japanese. I hope I succeeded!
3. Any advice for aspiring writers?
If I could go back and talk to my beginning writer self when I started writing Flying the Dragon, I’d be shocked to find out how long it would take publish a novel. I was so anxious to get my manuscript out to agents and editors, and I know now that it wasn’t ready. As hard as it is to hear, patience is something that all writers need in the business of publishing. In the meantime, though, do whatever you can to hone your craft—find a critique group, join SCBWI (www.scbwi.org), attend writers’ conferences where you can sign up for professional critiques of your work, and join writers’ forums like the one on Verla Kay’s website (www.verlakay.com). These things lend a feeling of forward momentum, which always makes the wait a little bit easier.
4. Any plans for a future book? Will it be multi-cultural?
I’m working on another middle grade novel that does have cultural themes, although in a way that’s different from Flying the Dragon. I’m also tweaking some picture book manuscripts that are not multi-cultural in nature, but that I’m hoping will appeal to a wide range of readers.
Thanks so much for hosting me on The Write Path!