Jasmine Toguchi: Mochi Queen
Debbi Michiko Florence
FSG, July, 2017 107 pages
Jasmine Toguchi series #1
Jasmine Toguchi is excited for the New Year's holiday. Her grandmother, Obaachan, is visiting from Japan and all the members of her extended family will gather at her California home to make the traditional mochi, a special rice treat. Mochi is always made by the men pounding the rice in the backyard, which is rolled into balls by the women in the kitchen. Jasmine is too young to help and is delegated to babysitting her little cousins. To make matters worse, it is her big know-it-all sister's first year helping in the kitchen and her obnoxious boy cousin's second year pounding. To solve the problem of feeling left out Jasmine retreats to her "thinking spot" within the limbs of an elderly neighbor's tree. Here she develops a dandy of an idea. Jasmine decides that instead of trying to copy her sister in the kitchen, she will go her own way and ask to pound the rice. But is she strong enough to lift the hammer? After many failed attempts to build up strength and get her hands on the mochi hammer the day before New Years arrives. Jasmine finally confesses to her father her desire to pound. Will he go for the idea? And will the other relatives, especially traditional Obaachan, back her up? If she gets her way, will she even be able to lift that heavy hammer? All is revealed by book's end and, after a brief misunderstanding, peace and love is restored, the sisters have reconciled, and a happy new year is had by all.
Welcome newcomer, Jasmine Toguchi, whose irrepressible charm and chutzpah will delight the female chapter book set, landing her shelf space besides Junie B, Judy Moody, Clementine, Ivy and Bean, and others. Jasmine offers an added multi-cultural and diverse dimension, exposing readers to Japanese-American culture. Although the fact that Jasmine is Japanese-American is not the point of the story, her ethnicity adds an extra layer to the narrative, setting her apart from other heroines in a crowded genre. Readers will relate to Jasmine's problems of being over shadowed by an older sister, trying hard, but not quite accomplishing a task, and wanting to do something you are not old enough to do. Jasmine problem solves and I love that her thinking place to do so is in the branches of a tree. I also love that her friend is an elderly neighbor. Throughout the book Florence celebrates relations between generations. Also celebrated is the importance of family and traditions, although acknowledging that sometimes these traditions can be "tweaked" to fit a situation. Jasmine's family is kind and supportive and even the older sister and evil cousin show that they care about our feisty heroine. The reading level of this series is on target for the intended audience. The margins are wide, the chapters are short, and the print is big. Attractive illustrations, contributed by Elizabet Vukovic, will entertain the reader, allow for the book to be more approachable, and help to advance the plot. Back matter includes an author's note about mochi, a recipe for this traditional dish, and a chapter insert of the next book in the series, Jasmine Toguchi: Super Sleuth, released simultaneously.