An engaging, sports-focused, family-driven Japanese spin on the new-kid-in-school narrative.


A 13-year-old boy struggles to save his baseball team, help care for his grandfather, and avoid bullies in Tokushima, Japan, in this middle-grade novel.

For Matsumoto Satoshi, his passion for baseball is the one thing he can count on to help him fit in at Tokushima Whirlpool Junior High School after growing up in Atlanta. It also connects him to Oji-chan, his grandfather, who is struggling with dementia but who still remembers vast amounts of baseball trivia. When Satoshi learns that his team might get cut if it fails to win a tournament, he becomes determined to help save it. But this isn’t easy, especially since teammate Shintaro constantly finds reasons to harass him for his American habits. Satoshi’s English teacher also singles him out in class, at one point hitting him with a notebook. Fearing further alienation, Satoshi pushes away Misa, a kind classmate whose mixed Japanese and American ancestry makes her a target of bullying, and he avoids the other English-speaking students. He also conceals his younger sister Momoko’s deafness and use of a wheelchair from his peers out of fear that he will be harassed—a concern that turns out to be justified. When a mistake in a game puts Satoshi’s position on the team in question, he has to decide who and what really matters to him. Kamata (Indigo Girl, 2019, etc.) provides plenty of action-heavy baseball scenes for sports fans and includes details about the Japanese history and traditions of the game. At the same time, Satoshi’s commitment to his grandfather and his anxieties about failing to conform are emotionally realistic and complex and will resonate with readers who are facing isolation in a new place. Passages about Momoko unfortunately focus more on what other people do to help her than on her individual voice. The characters are Japanese or part Japanese with the exception of one white American teacher. Bishop’s (Great Grandpa Is Weird, 2016) intermittent manga-influenced, gray-tone illustrations deftly highlight action or emotion in key scenes, sometimes using multiple panels and comic-book dialogue; the style emphasizes the characters’ youth.

An engaging, sports-focused, family-driven Japanese spin on the new-kid-in-school narrative.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-947159-36-5

Page Count: 208

Publisher: One Elm Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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Themes of freedom and responsibility twine between the lines of this short but heavy novel from the author of Because of Winn-Dixie (2000). Three months after his mother's death, Rob and his father are living in a small-town Florida motel, each nursing sharp, private pain. On the same day Rob has two astonishing encounters: first, he stumbles upon a caged tiger in the woods behind the motel; then he meets Sistine, a new classmate responding to her parents' breakup with ready fists and a big chip on her shoulder. About to burst with his secret, Rob confides in Sistine, who instantly declares that the tiger must be freed. As Rob quickly develops a yen for Sistine's company that gives her plenty of emotional leverage, and the keys to the cage almost literally drop into his hands, credible plotting plainly takes a back seat to character delineation here. And both struggle for visibility beneath a wagonload of symbol and metaphor: the real tiger (and the inevitable recitation of Blake's poem); the cage; Rob's dream of Sistine riding away on the beast's back; a mysterious skin condition on Rob's legs that develops after his mother's death; a series of wooden figurines that he whittles; a larger-than-life African-American housekeeper at the motel who dispenses wisdom with nearly every utterance; and the climax itself, which is signaled from the start. It's all so freighted with layers of significance that, like Lois Lowry's Gathering Blue (2000), Anne Mazer's Oxboy (1995), or, further back, Julia Cunningham's Dorp Dead (1965), it becomes more an exercise in analysis than a living, breathing story. Still, the tiger, "burning bright" with magnificent, feral presence, does make an arresting central image. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-7636-0911-0

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2001

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There is something profoundly elemental going on in Smalls’s book: the capturing of a moment of unmediated joy. It’s not melodramatic, but just a Saturday in which an African-American father and son immerse themselves in each other’s company when the woman of the house is away. Putting first things first, they tidy up the house, with an unheralded sense of purpose motivating their actions: “Then we clean, clean, clean the windows,/wipe, wipe, wash them right./My dad shines in the windows’ light.” When their work is done, they head for the park for some batting practice, then to the movies where the boy gets to choose between films. After a snack, they work their way homeward, racing each other, doing a dance step or two, then “Dad takes my hand and slows down./I understand, and we slow down./It’s a long, long walk./We have a quiet talk and smile.” Smalls treats the material without pretense, leaving it guileless and thus accessible to readers. Hays’s artwork is wistful and idyllic, just as this day is for one small boy. (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-316-79899-1

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1999

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