We are so excited to welcome Debbi Michiko Florence to the blog today to talk about her brand-new chapter book that releases today! I have read all three books in the series and absolutely love them ~ I have purchased and added them all to my school library Junior Fiction collection. ~ Kate Olson
Thank you for hosting me on your blog to help me celebrate the launch of Jasmine Toguchi Drummer Girl, book 3 in the chapter book series about a spunky Japanese American third grader.
Having this chapter book series is a dream come true for me. When I was a child, I loved to read. Favorite books included Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, and the witch books by Ruth Chew. As much as I loved those books, I also searched for books that reflected my experiences as a Japanese American. At that time, the only book I found with Japanese characters was Farewell to Manzanar, a memoir by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston about her time in an internment camp during WWII. This story, while interesting and heartbreaking (my father and his family had been interned) did not reflect who I was. I grew up in Los Angeles with a fairly large Japanese American community. While I proudly identified as Japanese, I mostly saw myself as American. By the time my daughter was born, I was pleased that there were books that reflected my daughter’s experiences – contemporary books with Asian American characters by Lisa Yee, Linda Sue Park, and Cynthia Kadohata.
When I came up with the idea for Jasmine Toguchi Mochi Queen, I was both excited and hesitant. Excited because Jasmine had the same spunky personality my daughter had when she was that age, and Jasmine lived in a neighborhood in Los Angeles just like the one where I grew up, with a family similar to mine in tradition and values. I was hesitant because I worried that the book would be a hard sell with having a Japanese American character. I felt confident that Jasmine was relatable to kids of all backgrounds, but worried that publishing might feel differently. And at first, when the rejections started rolling in, I felt that that might be the case.
But then I heard back from Grace Kendall at Farrar Straus & Giroux. She totally understood Jasmine and her story, and in fact, ended up asking me to write a series. I never thought for a moment that I would get to write more than one book about Jasmine, and now here I am with four books! Jasmine is very much an American little girl who deals with wanting things she might not be able to have and with the challenges of friendships and family. Jasmine is a fourth generation Japanese American (like my daughter). Jasmine and her family follow some Japanese traditions such as pounding mochi in the traditional way for New Year and celebrating Girl’s Day, a Japanese holiday honoring girls.
Book 3 in the series, Jasmine Toguchi Drummer Girl is about Jasmine preparing for a school-wide talent show. All her friends have talents worthy of showing off onstage, including new girl Maggie who insists she will be the best. Jasmine is worried about finding a talent that can beat Maggie’s, but when her mother introduces her to the Japanese taiko drum, Jasmine is hopeful. It’s a story about having fun versus being the best and about making new friends. I was especially excited to write this book because I have long been a fan of taiko. As a child, I think I only saw taiko as being performed by men. As an adult I was thrilled to see both men and women playing the taiko at the San Jose Obon festival many summers ago. I wished I had had the opportunity to learn when I was younger with more stamina. But writing this book meant that I could take a lesson, for research! I reached out to the closest taiko group (which was still 2 hours away from me) and arranged for a lesson. I absolutely LOVED the taiko and in fact, the song that Jasmine plays is the one I learned that they teach elementary school kids.
I’m proud of this series – and thrilled that Jasmine Toguchi is finding her way into the hearts and homes of readers. I hope they love this book and perhaps readers will someday be able to see a taiko performance or even learn the taiko.
Note: The next book in the series Jasmine Toguchi Flamingo Keeper releases in July 2018!