WARNING: Reading this article may give away things in the story ranging from unimportant to plot turners.
Jasmine Toguchi: Mochi Queen by Debbi Michiko Florence
Type: Children’s, Japanese, Multi-Cultural
Basic Plot: Jasmine is only eight, which means she isn’t allowed to help with mochi-tsuki, the New Year’s tradition of making mochi (rice cakes) with her family. Even if she could, her older sister would no doubt boss her around. Jasmine finally decides that her best bet is to beg her father to do the men’s job of pounding the rice.
Plot: 3/5 Average: In many ways, the story is a typical one about growing up, change, and family. The real thing that would interest readers is Jasmine’s Japanese heritage and her family’s traditions. Because it centers around these things, it makes the book stand out in a way all its own, though the story addresses many of the same issues as other children’s books. I guess one could say it is a book that helps children embrace different races and cultures, though Americanized.
Writing Style and Setup: 3/5 Average: The voice was a first person account by the main character, which is simple and honest in speech. It is like reading the heart of a child, whether Jasmine is bemoaning her fate or aiming at a goal, it is told from a point of view that children should understand and already be familiar with.
As for Japanese words, they were spelled according to how they would be spelled rather than literal sound (which I prefer), though a few words pronunciation are explained in more detail.
Graphics: 3½/5 Above Average: The art was beautiful in shades of black, white, and gray. The shading was lovely, and the art was made further so from consistency and details.
Moral: 2/5 Some Good and Bad Morals: To be honest, the book was better then I expected, but at the same time exactly what I expected. Mochi-tsuki is a holiday that involves making mochi aka rice cakes. (Which are yummy and I highly recommend be tried if one is not allergic to rice) The job is split into two groups, men and women. Men pound the rice with a hammer, while women cook the mochi in the house. Well, Jasmine, who is not yet allowed to help cook mochi, decides she wants to pound mochi. Her argument is that since women are as strong as men, women should be allowed to do the same jobs as men. Her family quickly agrees with her, lets her pound mochi (which she isn’t able to do on her own, resulting in her humiliation), cheers her up afterward, and then announce that “I think today we learned it’s okay to break some rules.”
I’m going to be honest with you. I don’t think there is anything wrong with a child, or even an adult, questioning why men and women don’t do the same things all the time. It’s a fair and at times even intelligent question, and, yes, some rules need to be changed. That does not mean though that men and women are exactly the same in every way physically and should be allowed to always do the same things. I am in favor of women’s rights – some people in my church and family even think I favor women’s rights too much – but I do believe that having a male-female separation in certain things is not wrong.
Women are, at times, are as strong as men, but, in all honesty, are usually not. When we look at traditional things like mochi-tsuki, they were separated by gender because on average, men were, and still are, stronger than women. It just makes sense for men to do the more strenuous jobs, because they were almost always better at it. It does not mean women are weak. It does not mean men are better or stronger in every way or anything like that. But let’s be honest here. The normal man has more physical strength then the normal woman. On the flipside, though, women have their own strengths that men are usually lacking, such as a high pain tolerance. I don’t believe everything is or should be divided by gender or that women are these weak creatures that will die at the prick of the finger, but I do believe that it’s not wrong, in certain things, to have men and women each do a special job that does fit their talents, unless one is paraded as better than the other or one does not value the other.
The moral was not wrong in asking the question, but the conclusion that it is okay to break rules if we do not know why we have them is bad. We need to know why we do or do not have certain rules. If we do not know, then we abandon them, as is seen in this book. In my life, I have seen this applied a lot, and the results are usually, though not always bad. Rather than immediately abandon rules we do not understand, we should think about why we do them, and then make an appropriate decision accordingly. No thoughtfulness is show in decisions in the book, though. Merely quick abandonment.
On the positive side, the moral of being kind and respectful is shown. Jasmine forces herself to be patient to her mean cousin, to be kind to her overbearing sister, and to be respectful to her older relatives. Jasmine’s spirit was not one of total rebellion and nastiness, and I appreciated that. Her good, respectful attitude towards life is something that is needed in today’s children’s books. Of course, she does have the natural childishness that is common in children’s books, but it is not the bratty, mouth child I am so sick of seeing.
Overall: 3/5 Average: In the end, I liked some things about this book, but disliked others. I do feel like the feminist movement these days has crossed the line between assertive and obnoxious, and while this book is in no ways obnoxious, it does push an agenda I don’t care for. As I said earlier, the attitude is not terrible, but the ideas behind the book could still be taken by a young child and misused. In the end, I think a parent ought to think about when their child should read this book, if ever. The reading level is from seven to nine.
Sexual and Inappropriate Content: 0/5 None
Violence: 0/5 None
Swearing and Using the Lord’s Name in Vain: 0/5 None
Emotional, Intense, and Disturbing Content: ½/5 Brief Mention: A girl wonders if anyone’s hand ever gets hit by the mochi hammer. It mentions that a boy once bumped his head and cried. A girl accuses her sister of trying to hit her with a broom, which was on accident. A girl is told not to fall out of a tree.
Religious Issues: ½/5 Brief Mention: A boy tells a girl it is bad luck for her to touch a hammer.
Magic: 0/5 None
Others: Jasmine wants to do the men’s job of pounding mochi, and eventually does. Her family then decides that “it’s okay to break some rules.” Though Jasmine does not have a serious attitude problem, there are a few traces of stubborn childishness.
Overall: ½/5 All Ages Appropriate: Outside of the books moral, which can be seen above (it’s long, I know) the book is morally acceptable for all ages.