SumoKitty – Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

Oh, it’s good to be back, albeit a bit under the weather. But nasty cold aside, I’d like to share a recent library find. How could I resist those eyes? That topknot?

Are you looking for something “fresh?” A book about cats, sumo wrestling, and never giving up just might qualify. Seriously.

Let’s start with a look at the gorgeous end papers. Hmmm. Traditional zen garden image set against the kitty jacket flap. Hmmm. If you look closely, a tiny mouse scampers through the gravel on the far right.

text/illustration ⓒDavid Biedrzycky

What could possibly come next?

text/illustration ⓒDavid Biedrzycky

More traditional, gorgeous images—but wait! There’s that cat chasing mice. And a sprinkling of wise sayings: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.” (Pay attention writers. Just begin.)

The next spread offers more of the same, this time with sayings about experts making mistakes and never giving up.  On the third spread, we reach the title page.

And then the narrative finally begins:

text/illustration ⓒDavid Biedrzycky

Yes, the story is really about the culture of sumo wrestling and never giving up. That homeless cat on the roof behind the main scene? His story parallels that of the sumo.

“It is said that the yokozuna can defeat his opponent by just staring deep into his eyes.

I am nothing like him.

I am…

a kitty.

A hungry stray kitty. I will go anywhere for food.”

Kitty follows the wrestlers back to their heya, the place where they practice, sleep….and EAT!

Although one of the wrestlers, Kuma, takes the cat in, kitty soon learns that he must earn his keep by catching stray mice (He eats with the wrestlers, too). Kitty eats so much, he grows fat and discovers that the mice not only have made a comeback, they’ve taken over. And now Kitty is so out of shape, he can no longer catch mice. So he gets evicted, in the same manner that Kuma gets tossed out of the wrestling circle by the yokozuna(the grand champion wrestler).

Those are dark days, my friend, when a cat who’s grown accustomed to being pampered indoors must fend for himself OUTSIDE. Kitty has been humbled by the mice, just as Kuma has been humbled by the yokozuna . So kitty practices nonstop, even more than Kuma, until he is ready once again to face off with the mice. In the end, Kuma must also wrestle the yokozuna.

I love the parallel structure and how the author mixes a fictional story with nonfiction elements, including Japanese terms, their explanation, and phonetic pronunciation throughout the text. This is a great book for kids to learn about sumo culture in a fun and engaging way. The illustrations are also a mix of traditional compositions and comic book style vignettes, an interesting choice for a single book.

I am curious, though, about Sox, the original Sumokitty on the back endpaper. What’s his story?

text/photo ⓒDavid Biedrzycky

Activities/Resources:

Make origami sumo wrestlers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SgrOXSlBcSc

Make origami cats: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uqB3zMJXG28

Learn more about Japan: https://web-japan.org/kidsweb/language/index.html

If focusing on the persistence theme, pair with other books about perseverance. Here are a few options:

Title: Sumokitty

Author/Illustrator: David Biedrzycki

Publisher: Charlesbridge, 2019

Age: K-3rd

Themes: cats, sumo wrestling culture, never giving up

For more perfect picture book recommendations, please visit Susanna Hill’s blog.

18 thoughts on “SumoKitty – Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

  1. Maria Marshall says:

    I found this book to be fun as well. As a mentor text, it’s construction is tantalizing. As a “subtle” introduction to another culture, tucked into the story of sumo wrestlers, it is a wonderful story to get kids learning & thinking about cultural differences. Great review, too!

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      Thanks, Maria! I just saw someone recommend this book to a 12×12 member who was looking for books with front matter. I find this really unusual, and think it works if you’re the author/illustrator. Or maybe if you already have a track record, you could sub a story where the narrative doesn’t start until later. Note that this is a 48-page PB.

  2. Joanna says:

    I have been watching David post pics of this for a while on FB so I am happy to see a review. What a clever amount of layering in this story. There are so many ways this could be used in the classroom. I love he front cover too.

  3. Patricia Tilton says:

    What a great front cover — it speaks volumes and you want to listen. Like Joanne, I like the parallel layers and an introduction to a sport and culture few children are familiar with. Great find!

  4. Ste J says:

    What an intriguing mix of ideas, its a way into more exploration of both Japan and the ways of kitty. That front cover is worth the money all by itself.

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