The Little Yokozuna, by Wayne Shorey, for Timeslip Tuesday

Way back in May of 2009, I began to conciously seek out multicultural children's books, primarily in an effort to add color to my sons' bookshelves.  One of the books that I ended up buying in that initial burst of enthusiasm was The Little Yokozuna, by Wayne Shorey (Tuttle Publishing, 2003, middle grade).    And I have only just now finished it, partly because of tbr pile inertia, and partly, and sadly, because when I started it back then I realized it wasn't very good.

I still think it isn't very good.   But as well as being multicultural, it is a time travel book, and so in a vague desire for completeness (someday I will have reviewed every children's time travel book ever written in English, Magic Treehouse books and other series-es for the younger reader excepted)  I'm going ahead and posting about it, and it will be my 179th time travel book (and my 124th multicultural sci fi/fantasy book; the links go to my full lists).

Basic plot--Japanese demons have kidnapped an American girl, called Little Harriet.  She disappeared in a museum garden, and her six older brother and sisters have found that the garden serves as a portal, that has whisked them, in pairs, into a whole series of other gardens, mostly Japanese.   One pair of siblings ends up in Japan in the 1960s, where they meet a Japanese boy, Kiyoshi-chan.  He and his family are kind and helpful.  Another pair ends up becoming friends with a haiku-writing monkey named Basho.  The third pair ends up in an underground pit of demons.   They are reunited.  They meet an enigmatic old man who is enigmatic.  Demons are glimpsed; one is beheaded.  More gardens are visited, too quickly to explore in detail.

Finally the six American kids and one Japanese kid end up at a Japanese demon/god sumo wrestling match.  The Japanese kid enters the ring to fight for their lives (and Little Harriet).

The enigmatic old man enigmatically leads them to Little Harriet.  The American kids go back to modern Boston.

Here is what I liked:  Some of the garden descriptions are appealing.   I like learning about new things--I now know more about sumo wrestling.

Here are the reasons why I didn't like it:

1.  The character names.  "Little Harriet."  Her brother, "Owen Greatheart." (He wasn't even all that greathearted).  Another brother, "Knuckleball."  The fact that when we meet the oldest sister, Annie, her brother is calling her "Granny."  This confused me.  I thought she was a grandmother.   The fact that Kiyoshi-chan is never just Kiyoshi (although maybe that's a nod to the reality of 1960s Japan???).  Edited to add--I am reassured by a commentor (thanks) that I did not need to be bothered by Kiyoshi-chan's honorific, so I shall cease being so!

2.  The multiple jumps in perspective.  I coped reasonably well with all the different narrative strands, but I object to shifts in narrative perspective from one paragraph to the next.

3.  The resulting fact that I never felt I knew any of the characters well enough to care about them as individuals.  In particular, what with a considerable portion of the book's beginning told from the perspective of Kiyoshi-chan, I felt invested in him, and so was somewhat put out to find him becoming a minor side-kick (even when he took center stage as a sumo wrestler, and thus became the title character, "yokozuna" being the highest rank in professional sumo, he stayed minor).   I think, also, that if an author tells me some of the kids are blond, but then goes out of his way to say that one has skin "the beautiful dark color of smooth chocolate," he should maybe tell me more about the familial circumstances of the kids (and make a vow never to use chocolate as a skin color descriptor ever again.  I got stuck for a while at this point, thinking deep thoughts like "milk chocolate is smooth but not dark" etc.).

3.  The fact that the plot made little sense, with motivations and meanings that never felt properly developed.  WHY, for instance, did the kids travel through time?  There is no reason, plot-wise, for this, and it didn't add to the sense that I was reading a coherent story.  And what was with the talking monkey?  I am fundamentally against talking monkeys whose only purpose is to introduce Basho's poetry, in a somewhat twisted fashion, to the young.

In a nutshell:  It was like a confused fever dream, and I'm not adding it to my son's bookshelf.

And so that concludes this week's edition of Time Slip Tuesday. Tune in next week for a book I like more than this one.


  1. Hmmm. Too bad about this one - all of your dislikes sound reasonable. You've done an admirable job with the negative review. Thanks for sharing!

  2. I can say that yes, Kiyoshi-chan probably wouldn't be referred to without the honorific. Most English original or English translations do tend to drop honorifics, with translation notes in the back. But I prefer when they're left in, as in Del Rey Manga.


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