Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Sumo Joe by Mia Wenjen, illustrated by Nat Iwata

Sumo Joe by Mia Wenjen, illustrated by Nat Iwata
Lee & Low Books, 2019, 40 pages

It's Saturday and that means it's time for Joe to practice sumo with his friends, and time for younger sister Jo's aikido lesson. But before Jo leaves with mom, she gives a subtle look at the sumo boys, and you know that joining them is what she really wants to do. While Jo and mom are gone, Joe and his friends get ready to practice. Sumo takes place in a dohyō ring and the boys build one using throw pillows.

Once that's done, they tie on their special belts called the mawashi, practice teppo to strengthen arms and shoulders, and shiko, a stomping exercise to build strength and to get rid of any evil demons that might be hanging around in the dohyō.

But when Jo comes home, she challenges brother Joe to a match - aikido vs. sumo. But girls aren't allowed within the sacred space of the dohyō. Now he's torn between being a good big brother and following the rules. And even if they do let Jo into the ring, can younger, smaller sister beat her bigger, older brother in this male-only sumo space? Because one of those rules is that if any part of Joe steps out of the ring, he loses. What a dilemma!

Sumo Joe is a wonderful book on several levels. First, it's a playful look at family and sibling rivalry. Joe is such a kind, gentle brother towards his sister, and readers quickly realize that the match Jo challenges him to is done in the spirit of good clean fun. Most importantly, the loser doesn't stomp off sore and angry. Second, it an informative book about sumo wrestling which many of us don't really know a lot about (including myself). Debut picture book author Wengen has seamlessly woven in sumo terms so that by the end of the story, young readers are familiar enough with the new words to use them comfortably.

Picture book artist Nat Iwata used a soft pastel palette for Sumo Joe that perfectly matches the gentleness and playfulness of the story. I thought that including lots of generational family pictures in the background throughout to the story was a really nice touch.

It is a tradition in Asian homes to take off one's shoes when you enter and leave them by the door, and indeed Iwata shows everyone's shoes lined up at the front door in some pictures. These are the kinds of references that help kids understand other cultures they may not be familiar with.

As you can see from the illustration examples shown here, Wengen has written the text in short rhyming stanzas of four beats each that never falters throughout the whole book. And amazingly, she has managed to include a lot of information in these short sentences.

Back matter includes an Author's Note that gives more information about traditional sumo wrestling, and the surge of interest and support for allowing women into this sacred space. There is also Glossary of the terms used throughout the book.
You can also find an extensive Sumo Joe Teacher's Guide to download, thanks to the published, Lee & Low

Sumo Joe is a sweet, informative story and ideal for young kids who are just developing an interest in martial arts.

This book is recommended for readers age 4+
This book was provided to me by the publisher, Lee & Low


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