Friendly sibling rivalry sparks a face-off between the two Japanese martial art forms, sumo and aikido.
Spare rhyming text introduces Japanese-American Sumo Joe as a “Strong big bro, / built for sumo,” who is “gentle, though.” While sister Jo must go to aikido, Joe’s friends arrive to “practice sumo!” His two friends, both boys of color, are quick to help tie the special belt and construct their makeshift wrestling ring with various throw pillows. They continue with “teppo,” or drills, including flinging salt to purify the “dohyo,” or ring. Japanese terms, printed in boldface on first occurrence, are seamlessly incorporated into the text, explaining different aspects of sumo. An author’s note and glossary also provide extended cultural notes on both martial art forms, including sumo’s origins in Shinto. Iwata provides a warm pastel palette with characters full of movement and personality. This is especially apparent when Jo returns from practice with her hair flying behind her. Jo is tenacious in challenging her brother despite the traditional sumo practice that women cannot enter the ring once it is purified. When Sumo Joe accepts, readers are treated to a lively sibling duel with a good-natured conclusion. With a saturation of ninja/ninjutsu books in the market, this is a refreshing new take on the martial arts genre.
Young readers will enjoy this spirited debut with insightful integration of cultural exploration. (Picture book. 3-6)