February 28 — 11:22 pm, 2020

The Reading Quilt: ‘Kitchen’

A sensitive look at homophobia and transphobia for young adults.

Rachel Slaughter

Bullying is an epidemic that many school officials are facing head-on. But despite their best efforts, bullying, especially transphobic and homophobic bullying, is a social phenomenon that continues to spread like mold in many schools, hindering adolescent development and threatening lives. 

Statistics show that more than 80% of young transgender people report being victims of verbal shaming or violent attacks. These harmful experiences can lead to thoughts of suicide or self-harm. Despite this reality, the subject of transphobia is generally not discussed in books. Essentially, the subject is taboo in the publishing industry.

With the onslaught of multicultural literature in publishing, it is wise for school personnel who are seeking it to understand its definition. Multicultural literature is defined in the scholarly realm as literature that “recognizes, accepts, and affirms human differences and similarities” related to gender, race, disability, and class. However, it is not safe to assume that all books that include diverse characters are suitable for the classroom. When choosing multicultural literature, it is important to think critically about each selection. 

Each month, “The Reading Quilt” provides a short review of a book that a teacher may use to spark conversations about culture and race, along with a learning activity that may help students understand human behavior. Using the acronym QUILT, we offer readers information about the Quality of writing, Universal theme, and Imaginative plot, as well as a mini Lesson plan, and Talking points that stem from the book’s premise.

This month’s selection is Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto, translated by Megan Backus.

Mahoko Yoshimoto, who created the pseudonym Banana Yoshimoto, is a Japanese writer who was born in Tokyo on July 24, 1964. Kitchen, published in 1988, is Yoshimoto’s debut work. Inspired by their famous father Takaaki Yoshimoto, both Mahoko and her older sister Yoiko Haruno, a famous mangaka, or comic book author, delight people with their creativity. A former waitress, Mahoko names U.S. authors Stephen King and Truman Capote as writers who influenced her. She has published several novels, short story collections, and essay collections.

Quality of writing: Kitchen, which was made into a movie in 1997, presents Mikage, the heroine, as a lonely young adult orphan who is enchanted by kitchens, the center of the home and of her heart. Yoshimoto’s writing reads like an ode to kitchens and the tranquility that they represent. She uses that same poetic energy to immortalize the character Eriko Tanabe, a transgender woman who dies at the hands of hatred.

Universal theme: Mikage, who is already dealing with the death of her beloved grandmother, is hit by the devastating blow of losing Eriko, her mentor and confidante, revealing the novel’s theme of love’s endurance in the face of tragedy.

Imaginative plot: Struggling to overcome her grandmother’s death, Mikage uses Yuichi Tanabe, Eriko’s son, as a port in her storm, revealing her arrested development. Throughout the story, Mikage navigates her world like Alice in Wonderland, confused by the shenanigans the adult world has to offer. 

Lesson plan: This novel provides an opportunity for upper school students to discuss a person’s gender identity or gender expression that differs from their sex assigned at birth. 

Talking points: Students may benefit from understanding the various terms associated with sexual identity. Listed below are links to resources that may provide topics that students can discuss as a class.

  1. Terms associated with transgender identity.
  2. FAQs about transgender people.
  3. LGBTQ definitions.

Dr. Rachel Slaughter earned her doctoral degree in Cognitive Studies in Reading at Widener University. Her dissertation explores multicultural literature in private schools through the lens of Critical Pedagogy. Her new book titled “Turning the Page: The Ultimate Guide for Teachers to Multicultural Literature ” will be published by Rowman and Littlefield in 2020.  To contact her, email literacyuniversity@gmail.com. For other multicultural literary suggestions, follow her on Google Plus or go to literacyuniversity.org.

 

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