Debbie Michiko Florence’s delightful early chapter book series, about an 8-year-old Japanese American girl named Jasmine Toguchi, provides readers with accessible and engaging snapshots of Japanese cultural traditions as well as universal struggles of growing up in the US.
In Drummer Girl Jasmine is tasked with quickly discovering a talent she can display at the school’s talent show. She has many interests, like collaging and tree climbing, but they’re not the kind of thing live audiences are likely to find entertaining. Jasmine feels like the only student in the third grade without a talent and grows anxious, initially keeping her feelings to herself.
Jasmine soon shares her anxiety with her loving and supportive mother who introduces her to taiko (Japanese drums). In college, Jasmine’s mother played taiko with a woman name Kat who recently moved to the neighborhood. Kat gives Jasmine lessons about the drums and Japanese values. Florence writes: “Kat said taiko was about respect. Respect for space, the equipment, and people, including myself” (p. 72).
Jasmine’s performance is imperfect at the talent show dress rehearsal, but she is committed and, although nervous, participates in the official talent show. Jasmine performs brilliantly.
Afterwards, Jasmine sees a rather arrogant student who surprised herself by performing poorly. She approaches her and reassures her that her performance was fine. After learning that the girl doesn’t enjoy playing her instrument she invites her to learn taiko.
Packed with life lessons, diverse characters, and Japanese cultural traditions, I highly recommend this book for classroom and home libraries. The author’s website has fun activities to complement the series, and readers who fall in love have several other books starring Jasmine to devour next!
Reviewed for the Cybils Awards 2018