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.
What could possibly come next?
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:
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.
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?
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:
Author/Illustrator: David Biedrzycki
Publisher: Charlesbridge, 2019
Themes: cats, sumo wrestling culture, never giving up
For more perfect picture book recommendations, please visit Susanna Hill’s blog.