May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and in recent years, the month has taken on greater importance. There have been incredible stories coming out over the last couple of years, peeking into these rich cultures: Eyes That Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho and Dung Ho (China); A Sari for Ammi, by Mamta Nainy and Sandhya Prabhat (India), and Sumo Joe by Mia Wenjen and Nat Iwata (Japan). Each story is a trip into a different culture, based in thousands of years of history and tradition, in the hope of creating understanding. I Am Able to Shine, by Korey Watari and Mike Wu, joins these books with a narrative that inspires, uplifts, and embraces Japanese culture and heritage.
Keiko is a young girl of Japanese heritage who wants to “change the world and shine”. She whispers her wishes to her cranes – a cultural touchpoint some may recognize, especially if you’ve read Eleanor Coerr’s Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, or the picture book counterpart, Sadako’s Cranes by Judith Loske – and sets about her task. She is kind; she perserveres; she helps others and becomes a force for positive change. The reader sees her grow into her confidence and sense of self, overcoming challenges that present themselves, whether it’s a group of children looking askance at her bento box as they eat lunch or being ignored on the basketball court. She proves herself time and again with the support of her family and a determination that moves her forward.
Inspired by the author’s Japanese-American childhood and a determination to create more stories about growing up Asian-American, I Am Able to Shine is filled with touches Japanese culture, from paper cranes and koi fish to bento boxes and traditional Japanese clothing. Pixar artist brings Korey Watari’s story to life with engaging, colorful artwork and expressive characters. The storytelling draws readers in and brushwork fonts add another cultural touch; inspiring words that punctuate Keiko’s path get emphasis and color, giving kids a wonderful road map for life: “Dream”; “Kind”; “Perserveres”; “Determined”; “Loved”, and other lead their way to Keiko’s most incredible accomplishments. Inspiring for all children, I Am Able to Shine is an excellent storytime choice and an excellent addition to SEL and cultural collections.
By the way – peek underneath the cover! The hard cover is a beautiful traditional Japanese flower pattern; the endpapers are a shower of dark pink and white cherry blossoms against a pink page.
Husband-and-wife team Korey Watari and Mike Wu live in the San Francisco Bay Area in California with their two lively daughters. This is their first picture book together. Korey is a sansei, or third generation Japanese American, born and raised in Los Angeles. She played basketball for a Japanese American League, graduated from the University of California Riverside, and studied at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising. Korey has worked in the animation and fashion industries for companies such as Disney and the Gap. This is her first picture book. Learn more at www.koreywatari.com or on Twitter at @tinyteru.
Mike is the author and illustrator of the acclaimed, bestselling Ellie series, the first picture book of which was named one of NPR’s best books of the year. He is also a Pixar artist and has worked on films including The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Up, Toy Story 3, Coco, and Soul. His illustrations have been hailed as “reminiscent of classics like Harry the Dirty Dog and Curious George.” Visit him at www.theartofmikewu.com or on Instagram at @wudog23.