Hiroshi lives in a village in Japan where his grandfather makes traditional rokkaku fighting kites from bamboo and paper. In a month, Hiroshi will fly a kite of his own in the annual kite-fights for the first time.
Thousands of miles away near Washington, D.C., Skye finally makes the All-Star soccer team and looks forward to a summer spent scoring goals and finally being “in” with the cool girls.
Both of these fifth-graders soon find their dreams falling apart around them.
Hiroshi’s grandfather is ill, and the only treatment available is in America. They must leave immediately, before the kite fighting festival. And, they will go live with family Hiroshi has never seen.
Skye’s real name is Sorano, and her father is Japanese. In fact, her father and Hiroshi’s father are twins. But Skye is solidly American and while she can understand and even speak some Japanese, she isn’t comfortable with that side of her family’s heritage. She can’t even really use chopsticks.
But with the family coming to live, her parents insist that she start going to Japanese school. Which happens to meet at the same time as the All-Star team practices.
What occurs when Hiroshi and Skye meet and begin to adjust their dreams to fit what life has given them is poignant, moving and deeply true on many levels.
Author Natalie Dias Lorenzi, herself a school librarian and ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher, has a beautiful grasp of the wordless struggles of the person who cannot speak the common language, the conflict between thoughts and words. In this passage from early in the book, Hiroshi is in his ESL class where the students are drawing pictures of things they like to do.
He thought of the exact words he wanted to say, so he wouldn’t make a mistake: “I like kites.”
But he wanted to say so much more. He wanted to tell Mr. Jacobs about the kite battle he had to miss because he’d moved to America. He wanted to explain that the dragon kite was the first one he had made himself. Well, mostly himself — Grandfather had helped a little. He wanted to say that Grandfather was a rokkaku champion and Hiroshi’s best friend. And that he hoped Grandfather would get better soon so they could keep flying kites together.
“Yes,” Hiroshi repeated. “I like kites.”
Because of touches like these, “Flying the Dragon” is a perfect read-aloud book for teachers and librarians. It is a great way to prompt classroom discussions about empathy and compassion, about dealing with bullying, the consequences of lying, handling selfishness and other negative emotions, and big life transitions. For these same reasons, it would be a great book for a family to read together. (And keep a box of tissues handy. You’ll need it.)
“Flying the Dragon” is what many in publishing call “a quiet book.” It doesn’t have a trendy theme, like vampires or werewolves. It’s not “high concept” with broad commercial appeal and the possibility of a four-part movie series with shiny posters. It doesn’t scream at you with a brash, sparkly cover in the bookstore.
It glides its way into your heart with the grace and beauty of a kite dancing on the wind.