The first book in a new chapter book series featuring a spunky Japanese-American heroine!
Eight-year-old Jasmine Toguchi is a flamingo fan, tree climber, and top-notch mess-maker!
She's also tired of her big sister, Sophie, always getting to do things first. For once, Jasmine wishes SHE could do something before Sophiesomething special, something different. The New Year approaches, and as the Toguchi family gathers in Los Angeles to celebrate, Jasmine is jealous that her sister gets to help roll mochi balls by hand with the women. Her mom says that Jasmine is still too young to join in, so she hatches a plan to help the men pound the mochi rice instead. Surely her sister has never done THAT before.
But pounding mochi is traditionally reserved for boys. And the mochi hammer is heavier than it looks. Can Jasmine build her case and her mochi-making muscles in time for New Year's Day?
About the Author
Elizabet Vukovic received her MFA from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, California. She specializes in children's book illustration, but enjoys experimenting with character design, concept art, fashion illustration, and decorative art. She currently resides in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. She illustrates the Jasmine Toguchi series, including Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen and Jasmine Toguchi, Super Sleuth.
Read an Excerpt
A TERRIFIC IDEA
It was safest for me to hide in my room. Mom was scrubbing the guest bathroom. Dad was getting the cardboard boxes from the garage. My big sister, Sophie, was sweeping the kitchen floor. I waited for my chance to escape the cleaning frenzy.
I, Jasmine Toguchi, do not like to clean! But I do like to climb trees, eat dessert, and make messes. I'd rather do any of those things right now.
I peeked out my bedroom window. Dad has moved into the backyard! I tiptoed out of my room. Nobody in the hall! I ran to the front door. But just as I put my hand on the doorknob, I heard footsteps behind me.
"Jasmine Toguchi, where do you think you're going?" I turned slowly to face my mother.
"We need to clean the house before everyone arrives tomorrow," Mom said. "Now go help your sister."
Walnuts! This was exactly what I was trying to avoid. Helping Sophie would mean that I did all the work while she bossed me around.
"I already finished sweeping," Sophie announced from the next room. Scattered across the kitchen floor, small mounds of dust and bits of trash sat like sand dunes on the beach. Except this was no vacation. "You can pick it all up. I'll let you know if you do a good job."
Sophie is two years older than me. She thinks that makes her my boss. If that weren't annoying enough, she also gets to do everything before me. She started school first. She learned to read first. She even started piano lessons last year, and I have to wait another year. Not that I really want to play the piano.
Sophie was always the expert. She thought she was smarter and better than me. Just once, I wished I could do something first. Just once, I wanted to be the expert.
As I swept the piles into the dustpan, Sophie climbed up onto the kitchen stool. It was like being higher up made her more in charge. This meant barking commands at me while she picked at the chipped polish on her fingernails.
"You missed a pile!"
"Stop sweeping so hard! You're making dust fly into the air!"
"Don't spill or you'll have to clean it up."
I sighed and swept.
We were getting ready for mochi-tsuki. Every year, our relatives come over to our house to celebrate New Year's. We spend the entire day making mochi, Japanese sweet rice cakes. It's hard work to make mochi, but there's a reward — eating the gooey treat afterward.
Actually, all the other relatives do the hard work. In my family, you had to be at least ten years old to make mochi. This year would be Sophie's first time getting to help. I'm only eight. Once again, Sophie would do something before I did. By the time I was ten and got to make mochi, too, she would be the expert and boss me around. That would take all the fun out of it.
This year, just like last year, I would be stuck babysitting.
I bent over, scooped, and walked to the trash can to empty the dustpan. I did this a hundred times, at least.
I wished I could help with mochi-tsuki. I didn't want to watch DVDs with my four-year-old cousins. It wasn't fair. I was big enough to make mochi!
"I'm going to help make mochi," I said to Sophie.
She kept picking at her orange nails. "You're too little. You'll only get in the way."
"I'm big enough." Yesterday I noticed I came up to Sophie's chin. During the summer I came up to her shoulder. I was growing!
"Just wait your turn," she said.
This year, Sophie would sit at the table in the backyard with Mom and all the other women. She would probably get to sit right next to Obaachan, our grandma who came from Japan every year for the holidays.
"Stop pouting and finish cleaning," Sophie said. "You'll get your turn at mochi-tsuki when you're ten."
I wished there was something I could do before her. Something she could never do.
I swept up another dust pile. Suddenly, I got an idea. It was tradition for Dad, the uncles, and the boy cousins to turn the cooked rice into the sticky mochi by pounding it in a stone bowl with a big wooden hammer. That's what I could do. I could pound mochi with the boys!
"What are you grinning about?" Sophie scooted off the stool and took the dustpan from me. "Sweep the floor again to make sure there's nothing left."
You needed to be strong to pound mochi. I was strong. So I swept the floor using all my muscles.
"Stop!" Sophie screeched. "You almost hit me! Mom! Jasmine tried to whack me in the head with the broom!" Hitting Sophie sounded like good practice for pounding mochi, but I knew it would only get me in trouble.
Just then Mom walked into the kitchen, her forehead wrinkled like it always was when she got annoyed.
"Jasmine Toguchi! You know better than that. Go clean your room if you can't work well with your sister."
I handed the broom to Sophie with a smile and skipped to my room to work on my terrific idea!
MY THINKING SPOT
Cleaning my bedroom is easy. Sophie brags that her bedroom is bigger than mine, but I love my room. It is cozy and I always finish cleaning my room before Sophie cleans hers.
The messiest part of my room is usually my desk. It used to be Dad's desk when he was a boy. Sophie's desk came from a store, but I liked that my desk was special. My dad used to do his homework on the same desk I do my projects on now.
I like to make collages. I cut out pretty pictures from Mom's old magazines. Then I glue the pictures onto a piece of cardboard. One time, though, I cut up Mom's magazine before she was finished reading it. Now we have a deal. When she finishes a magazine, she puts it on my desk. I had a whole mess of magazines.
I was working on a collage of my favorite color, purple. I scooped up the pile of pictures of grapes and plums and flowers and butterflies and a lavender sunset, and put them into a big envelope. I stacked the magazines into a neat pile. While I did this, I thought about mochi-tsuki. I not only needed to convince my parents to let me help, but to let me join the boys, too. My mom was all about rules. This was going to be tough.
I needed to go to my thinking spot.
We lived on what Mom called a quiet street, like that was a good thing. That meant there was no one to play with. My best friend, Linnie Green, lived too far for me to walk to see her.
Fortunately Mrs. Reese lived only two houses down. And even though she was old, older than Mom and Dad, she was fun to be around. She listens to me when I talk and doesn't tell me what to do, like Elbows off the table! or Don't make too much noise. She also let me have a special thinking spot in her backyard.
I liked going to Mrs. Reese's, especially because Sophie never went there. Mom said as long as I didn't bother Mrs. Reese, I could visit with her.
I am pretty sure I never bothered her.
Mrs. Reese was sitting in a rocking chair on her porch like she usually did after lunch.
"How are you today, Jasmine?" Mrs. Reese asked, putting her book on her lap. She was always reading. "Your mother says your relatives are coming. You must be excited!" Mrs. Reese moved here from Vermont in the summer, so she didn't know about our tradition. She told me it was very cold and snowy there in the winter. Here in Los Angeles we never get snow, and it mostly stays sunny.
"We're getting ready for mochi-tsuki. Moh-chee-tsoo-kee." I pronounced it slowly for her, because she wasn't Japanese-American like me. I couldn't really speak or understand Japanese, but I knew a few words.
She nodded as I sat down on her front steps. "What is that?"
"Every year, our relatives come over to make mochi. It's a Japanese dessert. It's good luck to start the new year by eating mochi." I closed my eyes, imagining biting into the chewy treat.
My favorite holiday is New Year's, when the whole family gets together. My mom likes Christmas best. I like it fine, especially the presents. Sophie's favorite day is her birthday.
"Is it a lot of work to make mochi?" Mrs. Reese asked.
"It takes two days!"
"Two whole days? Wow! What do you do?"
I frowned. Telling Mrs. Reese that I sat and watched TV with my cousins was not interesting. If only I could make mochi.
"Dad sets up the backyard with tables and chairs," I said. "Mom and my grandma wash special rice and then soak it overnight. When the rest of the relatives come over the next day, they cook the rice. The men pound the rice into mochi and the women roll the mochi into little balls."
I just had to be able to help make mochi! I needed to think of a way to convince my parents. Good thing I had the perfect thinking spot.
"I'm going to climb your tree now," I said. Mrs. Reese told me I could climb her apricot tree any time I wanted. That was my special place. The only rule was that I couldn't fall out of it.
In her backyard, I climbed to my favorite spot for thinking, in the crook of the bottom branches. I could lean against the tree trunk and not be afraid of falling. Not that I was afraid. I just didn't want to break Mrs. Reese's rule of not falling out.
Most of the leaves were gone by now. I could see my backyard from here. Dad had already set up the canopy to shade the tables. Why did only the men pound mochi? Was it because they were strong? But girls were strong, too. Last week, Tommy Fraser, a boy in my third-grade class, couldn't open his water bottle and he asked me for help. I opened it for him.
If I could show Dad that I was strong, maybe he would let me join the men.
There was a special hammer they used to pound mochi. I couldn't practice with it yet because it was still packed in a box. I would just have to use my arm muscles as much as possible before the big day. Then finally my muscles would get strong enough to lift the hammer! I wrapped my arms around the tree and hugged it.
I had a plan.
THE PLAN IN ACTION
When I got home, Sophie was in the kitchen with Mom. She was washing lettuce in the sink while Mom stirred a pot on the stove. My tummy rumbled as I smelled tomato sauce. Mom's spaghetti was the best!
"Can I help?" I asked, hoping I could be Mom's helper, too, like Sophie.
"Thank you, Jasmine," Mom said, "but we've got it."
"Yeah," Sophie said. "Mom and I are busy."
I stayed in the kitchen, thinking that maybe they would need my help later on.
Mom turned to get something out of the fridge and almost bumped into me.
"Jasmine, why don't you make a collage in your room?" I slunk into the living room and plopped down on the couch. I didn't want to make a collage right now. I wanted to spend time with Mom, because she wasn't home a lot.
Mom worked part-time as an editor. An editor reads other people's work and fixes the words. Like my teachers. My teachers were always fixing my writing. Part-time meant that Mom worked part of her time away from home and the other part at home. I liked the part when she was home. Especially because when she wasn't home, like on Thursdays, Sophie and I had a babysitter.
Mrs. Peepers was boring. She followed all of Mom's rules. My best friend Linnie's babysitter was in high school. They baked cookies, did their nails, and watched TV. All good stuff compared to the homework and quiet time Mrs. Peepers made us do.
By the time Mom called us for dinner, I was starving. Dad, Sophie, and I ate with forks, but Mom ate with chopsticks. She liked using chopsticks for eating everything except ice cream and cereal.
I slurped noodle after noodle. I remembered I needed to build up my arm muscles, so I twirled my pasta extra-hard.
"Mom!" Sophie screeched. "Jasmine is splattering spaghetti sauce everywhere!"
"Jasmine Toguchi!" Mom said. "Be careful. The floor is clean."
Sophie smirked, but I ignored her.
After dinner, I said, "I can wash the dishes." I had never washed dishes before, but it couldn't be that hard. You just had to scrub and rinse and lift dishes and pots and pans. All good things for using my arms.
Dad raised his eyebrows. Mom's mouth made a small O. Sophie glared at me.
"How nice of you," Mom said. She gave me her proud smile, the one that made her eyes happy. "I'll wash and you can rinse."
I stood next to Mom at the sink and rinsed dishes. My back started to hurt from standing there for so long, but I didn't complain. I tried to pick up the whole stack of dishes at once to show Mom how strong I was, but she made me rinse one dish at a time.
"I'll get the spaghetti pot," I said, reaching over to the counter.
"I'll get that —" Mom started to say.
My hands were wet and slippery. I pulled the pot off the counter.
Clang! The pot crashed to the floor!
Sophie ran into the kitchen.
"What was that?" she asked, even though it was perfectly clear.
Sophie loved to see me get in trouble. She was disappointed because instead of getting mad, Mom told Sophie we were doing fine.
I looked at my spaghetti-thin arms. That pot was heavy! Was the mochi hammer that heavy? All the spaghetti I had eaten tied into knots in my stomach. Mochi-tsuki was in three days. I had to get strong, fast!
The next day, it was time to pick up Obaachan from the airport. Sophie and I ran around the house shouting for joy. Mom ran around the house, too. She fluffed the couch pillows four times. She straightened the painting over the fireplace twice. She dusted the vase Obaachan brought the last time she visited.
Sophie and I went into the bedroom where Obaachan always stayed. Sophie left a note on the nightstand. On the pillow, I put a collage of birds that I had made. Obaachan loved birds. Right in the center of the collage was my very favorite bird in the world. A flamingo! Someday I hoped I could have a pet flamingo.
Mom shooed us out of the room, and then out of the house. She never let us go with her and Dad to the airport. She said we were out of control.
Sophie went to her best friend's house. I stayed at Mrs. Reese's.
Mrs. Reese put a big plate of brownies in front of me. "Your favorite," she said. "No nuts."
I took only one. Mom said I always had to use my manners, especially when I was a guest. Mrs. Reese baked the best brownies, so it was hard not to gobble up all of them. She never ate any brownies, not that I ever saw. Maybe she made them special just for me.
"How go the preparations?" she asked.
"Okay," I said after I swallowed a big chocolaty bite. "My grandma comes today. We call her Obaachan." I sounded it out for Mrs. Reese. "Oh-baah-chan. She and Mom will probably clean the house more."
I didn't understand why they spent so much time cleaning when everything would just get dirty again.
"You must be happy to see your grandma," Mrs. Reese said. "I know I'm excited about seeing my grandson when I visit my daughter tomorrow."
Mrs. Reese's daughter lives in Los Angeles. That's why she moved here from Vermont. I wondered if someday Obaachan might move here. That would be great!
"Where is your grandma coming from?" Mrs. Reese asked.
"Hiroshima. It's a city in Japan. She comes every year and stays for a whole month."
"You said your other relatives visit, too. When do they get here?" Mrs. Reese asked.
Mean cousin Eddie would come tomorrow. He and his parents live in San Francisco and it takes them eight hours to drive here. They would stay overnight at our house. I didn't want to think about mean cousin Eddie.
The rest of the family, with my nice cousins, lives near us in Los Angeles. That's what I was looking forward to.
"Tomorrow and the day after," I answered.
In two days, everyone except for me and my four-year-old cousins would make mochi. I had to get my arms ready.
"Do you have any wood that needs chopping?" I asked.
Mrs. Reese crinkled her forehead. It was the same look Mom made when I asked something she thought was strange.
"Or maybe hammering? Do you have anything that needs to be hammered?" I glanced around the kitchen. The cabinets looked fine. Too bad.
"The shed needs painting," Mrs. Reese said slowly, like she was thinking of not telling me.
I jumped up, brownie crumbs flying. "I'll do it!" "Well, it's a job that will take some time and I know your parents will be home soon with your grandma."
I sank back into the kitchen chair. I felt like a balloon with a hole in it.
"My!" Mrs. Reese said with a smile. "You sure want to help out! I'll tell you what, you can help me paint the shed after the holidays. On a weekend."
Oh. I didn't want to help after mochi-tsuki. It would be no use to work out my arms afterward. Besides, painting sounded boring.
Fortunately, before I had to answer, my parents' car pulled into our driveway.
"Thank you for the brownies! I'll see you later," I said, dashing out the door to greet Obaachan.
When I got back to the house, Sophie wasn't home yet. For once, I had Obaachan to myself. I flung myself at her as she stepped out of the car. She smelled like a pine forest. She laughed and patted my cheek.
I leaned back to look at Obaachan. Her short silver hair was like a fluffy cloud around her head. She smiled at me, her brown eyes crinkling, and my insides felt warm and sweet, like Mrs. Reese's brownies.
Excerpted from "Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen"
Copyright © 2017 Debbi Michiko Florence.
Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1. A Terrific Idea,
2. My Thinking Spot,
3. The Plan in Action,
4. Obaachan's Gift,
5. Muscles Needed,
6. Mean Cousin Eddie,
7. Wanted: Mochi Hammer,
8. The Big Question,
9. The Long Wait,
10. Breaking the Rules,
11. My Turn!,
12. Run Away,
13. Mochi Queen,
Microwave Mochi Recipe,
Excerpt from Jasmine Toguchi, Super Sleuth,
About the Author and Illustrator,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Eight-year-old Jasmine Toguchi is sick of everything happening to her sister, Sophie, first. Sophie started school first, learned to read first, started piano first, and now, she will learn to make mochi (a Japanese New Year’s treat) first. Jasmine wants to help make mochi too, instead of babysitting her cousins, Cassie and Leo. Sadly, the rule is that you can only make mochi once you are 10. As Jasmine contemplates the problem, she comes up with a plan. She could pound mochi with the boys… if she can convince her family. She tries to lift the hammer used to pound the treat. But as she begins to lift the hammer, her cousin Eddie comes and takes it away. How will she convince her family? And if she does, will she be able to lift the hammer? Opinion: Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen is an outstanding book with pictures that complement the story very well. Jasmine has a beautiful and unique personality. Debbi Florence portrays Japanese-American families very accurately, and an eight-year-old’s feelings even better. If you want to learn about the Japanese New Year, this book is for you. Reviewed by a LitPick student book reviewer Age: 11
One of my favorite books!
This was adorable, fun and I learned so much. Now I'm excited to try Mochi! Can't wait to explore this series further.