Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu, Simon & Schuster, Atheneum, A Caitlyn Dlouhy Book June 30, 2020

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Freeman Book Award Honor 2020
New York Public Library Best Books of 2020
SCBWI Crystal Kite Award finalist 2021
Young People’s Poet Laureate Naomi Shihab Nye’s  pick for The Poetry Foundation December 2020 

from The Young People’s Poet Laureate, Naomi Shihab Nye— This is the second novel-in-verse from the prize-winning author of Somewhere Among (based on bicultural life in a multi-generational home in Japan) who raised two children in Tokyo and experienced the 2011 earthquake and its aftershocks. In a time of American fires, floods, and hurricanes—not to mention a pandemic still in full swing—this extremely appealing text with spacious pages, time notations, and cultural richness abounding will make sense to so many displaced children everywhere. When life is full of disaster, how do we live? Eleven-year-old Maya guides us through her topsy-turvy days. I admit to having been mesmerized by Somewhere Among, which transported me into a child’s mind, feeling everything as poem, putting pieces together, attempting to make sense and beauty. In real life, Donwerth-Chikamatsu has been gardening more lately, as so many of us have, and her main character, worrying about radiation, will remind us of ourselves as well—basically worrying more about everything. The spirit of Beyond Me is nevertheless powerfully positive. “I wish we had enough sunflower seeds to give them.” Don’t miss this loving journey. 


Booklist starred review,  The Booklist Reader Best New Books: Week of June 30, 2020, Review of the Day, Review of the Week May 22

Eleven-year-old Maya is a happy, confident, binational only child living near Tokyo with her Japanese father, grandmother, and great-grandfather and her American mother. Then the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami devastate northern Japan. Maya and her family are safe, but she changes overnight into a fearful child, constantly worried about those affected by the disaster, and wondering what will become of her own family when the predicted Big One (earthquake) hits Tokyo. Donwerth-Chikamatsu’s novel in verse uses numerous graphics to excellent effect: military time entries in red next to Maya’s stream-of-consciousness narrative establish her anxiety and racing thoughts, wavy fonts mimic the rolling of the earth, illustrative placement of different-sized text and punctuation marks turn text into pictures, and a sparingly used background of concentric circles calls to mind the ripple effects of the disaster and its effects on Maya. With the loving support of her family, the affection of a stray cat that adopts the family, and her own practice of folding 1,000 paper cranes, Maya regains her equilibrium and gradually finds ways to conquer her fear and anxiety in her actions to help others, in a moving yet believable conclusion. An essential read, especially for anxious tweens in these uncertain times, with a message of hope and community.



When Japan is left in ruins by a massive earthquake, one child must navigate through fear to help the community.

Maya, half Japanese, half American, lives in a suburb a few miles outside of Tokyo. On March 11, 2011, a five-minute-long earthquake shudders through Japan, changing their lives forever. Aftershocks and tsunamis threaten to cause more devastation every moment. Maya’s family discovers they are luckier than many; they still have their home and their lives. But with each new tremble, Maya can’t help but panic. As whole areas are wiped out by the ocean, a nuclear plant is damaged, and the death toll continues to rise, the rest of Japan bands together to send relief to the hardest-hit region, in the northeast. Maya continues to feel hopeless and afraid, but her father tells her, “strengthen yourself,” then help others. Through small acts of kindness, Maya finds strength and discovers even little things can make a big difference. Narrated by Maya in free verse, this is an affecting account of Japan’s catastrophic earthquake and the days that surrounded it. The time signature often appears in red in the margins, allowing readers to grasp how long each day felt and how frequent and unpredictable aftershocks were. Occasionally shaky typesetting, along with the changing size and movement of the words on the page, adds to the overall impact and gravity of the story. A moving but never overwhelming look at Japan’s devastating 2011 earthquake. (author’s note) (Historical fiction. 8-12)


Publisher’s Weekly

On Mar. 11, 2011, an earthquake off the northeast coast of Japan, followed by a tsunami and an explosion at a damaged nuclear power plant, caused devastation throughout the country. Through the eyes of fifth grader Maya, who lives outside of Tokyo, this novel in free verse recounts the stressors of the event, its aftermath, and its ongoing reverberations. As the story begins, Maya plays freely in the wind and plans to perform a choir piece at school, but her daily life undergoes a dramatic change when the earthquake hits. After the event, the girl spends much of her time sheltering under a table and observing her parents, who try to help those affected, and her grandparents, who calmly tend their garden and vegetable stand. Donwerth-Chikamatsu (Somewhere Among) adapts font color, size, and word placement to reflect Maya’s physical experiences: one page includes only the enlarged phrase “Earth/ drops/ below me,” while others highlight times in the margin (“07:44 Earth shudders”), giving a feel to its passing. As the story shows the country’s unsteadiness and Maya’s creative strategies for overcoming her sense of helplessness, it offers a compassionate window into how adults and children cope with calamity. Ages 8–12. Agent: Holly McGhee, Pippin Properties. (June)


School Library Journal

Gr 4–8—This novel begins on March 9, 2011—just a few days before a massive undersea earthquake off the coast of Japan caused a tsunami. Eleven-year-old Maya is used to earthquakes (they happen all the time), and the kids at her school know just what to do in those cases. But this earthquake is different. It catches them by surprise, and the aftershocks and tsunamis mean that the danger isn’t over after the initial quake. Living in Tokyo, Maya and her family are far from the most affected region of the country; despite her own feelings of hopelessness, she finds ways to make a difference for those in the northwest who were hardest hit by the disaster. The verse format, with fonts and text size changes signifying geological action, immerses the reader in Maya’s situation. Her fear and uncertainty are well realized in the text. Readers watch as many aspects of life continue as normal in an otherwise abnormal world, while Maya finds ways of coping with her fears and connecting with her community. VERDICT Maya’s story is realistic and relatable for young readers experiencing anxiety from world events.



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