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One Wave at a Time by Holly Thompson, illustrated by Ashley Crowley (Albert Whitman, 2018)

One Wave at a Time TEACHER'S GUIDE (944 KB)

A classroom guide for One Wave at a Time designed for students in kindergarten through third grade.

One Wave at a Time

After his father dies, Kai experiences all kinds of emotions: sadness, anger, fear, guilt. Sometimes they crash and mix together. Other times, there are no emotions at all—just flatness. As Kai and his family adjust to life without Dad, the waves still roll in. But with the help of friends and one another, they learn to cope—and, eventually, heal. A lyrical story about grieving for anyone encountering loss.

Order One Wave at a Time from your library, your local bookseller, or from Bookshop.org, Amazon, or Amazon Japan.



Featured on the Publishers Weekly Social and Emotional Learning Booklist


"When a boy loses his father, waves of emotions wash over him as he grieves and begins to heal. At the dinner table, in the car, at a game—in everyday moments the absence of his father is felt. Fear, anger, and sadness roll in, unpredictable and overwhelming, as his father's items are both treasured and broken. Some days the boy feels numb, and sometimes happiness slips in. Simple drawings with loose washes of color provide literal interpretations of the text, waves looming and engulfing the boy. Moments are represented like pictographs, making this offering seem like a handbook or guide rather than a true picture book. The text's acknowledgement of the various emotions and slow healing process is much needed, and the support group, grief first-aid kit, memory box, and memory chair are important tools that are discussed. Moments when the family members share stories, make music, or just hold one another and listen to each other breathe show healing in process. Finally, when the difficult waves break, the boy has learned to surf them out toward peace..." --Kirkus Reviews


"One Wave at a Time by Holly Thompson and Ashley Crowley takes a lyrical, colorful, and thoughtful look at the effects of depression on a child who has lost a parent. After Kai's father passes away, Kai experiences waves of emotions, one after the other. Sometimes he feels sad, sometimes angry, and other times he feels nothing, just flatness. The waves seem to come in no particular order or time frame. Every day is new, and sometimes those waves even mesh together to make him sad and angry, or fearful and guilty. But as Kai and his family adjust to life without his dad, Kai learns to give himself time and space to feel his feelings, not to tamp them down and feel frustrated with the lack of forward momentum." --Let's Talk Picture Books


"This is the BEST book on the death of a parent I've ever read. Why? Because it really captures what kids go through as well as how parents support kids in their grief. This boy describes the waves of emotion that he feels after the death of his dad. "some waves / are fear waves / that curl me in a ball" There are some days with no waves, just flatness. "I'm like a robot / as I ride the bus, walk the halls" He narrates about the group where he can share about his special person that died. At homes, he adds to his memory box about his dad, makes a grief first aid kit, paint a Memory Chair to share dad memories. What a healthy view of grief! "when Mom cries now, I don't hide / when Ben whines now, I don't (usually) yell / and when I spy a wave, I inhale slow" Added to: Helpful Children's Books About Grief, Loss, and Death --Melissa Taylor, Imagination Soup

Twilight Chant by Holly Thompson, illustrated by Jen Betton (Clarion/HMH, March 20, 2018)


A 2019 NCTE Notable Poetry Book

Twilight Chant

As day slips softly into night, sharp eyes catch glimpses of the special creatures who are active at dusk.

Lyrical text and lush art capture the richness and life of this magical time in a sumptuous picture book that will inspire budding naturalists and anyone who has ever chased a lightning bug at twilight. An author’s note about twilight is included.

Order Twilight Chant from your library, your local bookseller, or from Bookshop.org, Amazon, or Amazon Japan.


Download the Twilight Chant Teacher's Guide created by Marcie Colleen with activities to help teachers integrate Twilight Chant into English language arts (ELA), mathematics, science, and social studies curricula. Art and drama are used as a teaching tool throughout the guide.


Watch the Twilight Chant Book Trailer


"As twilight arrives, the crepuscular creatures emerge. In twilight's "sun has just gone down light," egrets "fly to roost" and swallows "skim above the fields," while deer "come out to graze." In twilight, bats "swoop and swerve" and rabbits hop and nibble. Leaving their dens, foxes "sniff out birds and voles" and firefly lights blink off and on. "The skunks slink over lawn," the June bugs seek leaves to munch, and stretching cats prowl for mice. Thompson's languorous, cadenced lines poetically capture the light-infused stillness of this special time of day by repeating both the word "light" at the ends of many phrases as well as the phrase "twilight the low light"; the design enhances the effect by carefully positioning the spare text on the page for maximum effectiveness. Betton's realistic, double-page illustrations, in watercolor, pastel, and colored pencil, showcase animals, insects, and birds mentioned in the text in their native habitats, active and vibrant against the luminous lavenders, pinks, blues, and yellows of the twilight sky. A useful note "About Twilight" explains the period of low light "after sunset and before sunrise" when crepuscular animals are active, listing those visible in North America and featured in the text and in close-ups. A lovely, lyrical visual and verbal exploration of the wonders of twilight." (Picture book. 4-7)--Kirkus Reviews

"Just after sunset, two girls and their father leave the shore and walk home along a path that follows a stream through open fields. The verse text and luminous watercolor, colored-pencil, and pastel illustrations focus on a series of animals that can be seen along the way: egrets, swallows, bats, June bugs, fireflies, deer, bats, rabbits, a fox, and a cat, all intent on their own activities. The bats hunt for insects, while a rabbit flees from the fox, and the fireflies flash to attract mates. The title suits the book well, as the words have a chant-like quality, and in the artwork, the sky gradually dims from radiant rose and gold hues to deepening shades of purple at nightfall. Each set of two three-line verses leads into the next, mentioning the animal featured on the following two-page spread. Read aloud, the poetry has a quiet, mesmerizing quality. The appended note explains that at twilight, when neither nocturnal nor diurnal creatures can see well, animals adapted to dim light emerge. A lovely science picture book."--Carolyn Phelan, Booklist

"PreS-Gr 1–In the glow of twilight, family members pack up their beach things and walk home. The lyrical text introduces readers to various animals (including egrets, deer, rabbits, fox, fireflies, skunks, and june bugs) out and about at twilight as the illustrations depict them and tangentially follows the humans' progress as they wend their way home. Betton's beautifully realistic watercolor spreads fully capture the colors of twilight and the wonderful details of the animals while never quite losing sight of the family walking home in the background. Thompson's lyrical text cleverly mentions a new animal at the end of each spread then in the following two pages expounds on it. This stylistic repetition is very effective and also opens the door for an effortlessly interactive storytime. An easy-to-understand "About Twilight" page is appended, in which Thompson explains what twilight is; the differences between diurnal, nocturnal, and crepuscular animals; and lists the creatures in the book. VERDICT A visually and poetically beautiful title that sneaks in some animal facts as well. Perfect for storytime or individual sharing. A must-have for most libraries.–Catherine Callegari, School Library Journal

"Readers follow a family leaving the shore as the sun begins to sink and shift to twilight hours. Thompson's lyrical text directs attention to the animals that become active at this time of day – the "crepuscular creatures emerge" – with smoothly rhythmic repetition that reads aloud beautifully. As deer graze, swallows skim, foxes sniff and bats swerve, each page turn leads to a new creature and heightens our appreciation of this calm yet intensely busy twilight time. The illustrations, rich with gold and rose dusky tints, showcase each animal and its setting with both realism and softness across double spread pages. The family wends their way home slowly, tucked in as a careful through-line to emphasize our environmental interconnectedness. The deepening sky colors conclude with purpley nightfall – making this title a perfect, calming bedtime selection. An author's note clearly explains what twilight is and gives more information about the intriguing animals encountered in the story. A poetic masterpiece infused with subtle science and soothing imagery, TWILIGHT CHANT is one of a kind." Review by Cathy Ballou Mealey on GooD ReaDs with Ronna


Falling into the Dragon's Mouth by Holly Thompson


Henry Holt Books for Young Readers/Macmillan 2016

"A poetic tale of overcoming school bullies." --The Japan Times

NCTAsia Freeman Book Award title

Falling into the Dragon's Mouth

In a Japanese seaside neighborhood lives Jason Parker: a sixth grader one year older than his classmates a stinking foreigner to some classmates an orange belt in aikido a big brother Jason Parker is just a boy trying to get through his days with calm and courage. If only everyone around him would let him. This is a beautifully spare novel in verse about one boy's life-a story that will resonate with anyone who has ever struggled to fit in.

Book cover and interior illustrations by Matt Huynh.

A 2016 NCTAsia Freeman Book Award title.

Teacher Resource

Watch the one-hour Five College Center for East Asian Studies Webinar Falling into the Dragon's Mouth recorded 12/05/2017, detailing the Kamakura neighborhoods and wider Japan context of the novel. The webinar is free; just click on the FCCEAS Archived Webinars page, click and register with your name and email address. And check out all the other informative webinars offered by FCCEAS. Or you can watch the webinar on Vimeo.


Teacher Resource
Read the 30 NoticePoems that go with Falling into the Dragon's Mouth. These poems are all companion poems to the novel, in Jason's voice, with Cora and various other characters making occasional cameo appearances. The series features a poem and photo posted each day during National Poetry Month--poems that feature the Kamakura, Japan, setting for the book on Holly Thompson's Hatbooks Blog. Do you know the world in your town? Try writing your own #NoticePoems!

Order Falling into the Dragon's Mouth from your library, your local bookseller, or from Amazon or Amazon Japan.

"Told through the eyes of a middle school American boy who is living in Japan, students have a compelling account of issues ever present in society today and how to deal with them: bullying, feeling isolated, not fitting in, cross-cultural understanding, and how to survive teenage years. It is also a window into Japanese culture and school life, while exploring emotions and issues that all teenagers are constantly facing when “friend groups” dominate and exclusion is visible and difficult, especially when moving across the cultural pathways." --2016 NCTAsia Freeman Book Award Honorable Mention

"'Falling into the Dragon’s Mouth': a poetic tale of overcoming school bullies. In her third verse novel, Japan-based writer Holly Thompson tackles the topical issue of bullying. Her protagonist, likable American sixth-grader Jason Parker, struggles to fit in at his Japanese elementary school after moving from America to a seaside community on the Shonan coast in Kanagawa Prefecture. However, things go from challenging to overwhelming when he is assigned to sit with the cattiest girls and most pugnacious boys in his class. The teacher turns a blind eye as the level of surreptitious bullying escalates, and Jason has to rely on his own wits and inner strength to get by, drawing on his aikido training for inspiration. His well-meaning but rather clueless parents are of little practical help — they’re too wrapped up in their busy teaching careers and trying to save enough money to send Jason to an international school. Jason realizes that employing American-style justice will only exacerbate the situation and, in the end, his strongest ally turns out to be his plucky younger sister. An eclectic cast of supporting characters, some of whom are misfits in their own way, add interest to the story. The author does a laudable job of presenting a warts-and-all view of Japan’s contemporary classroom culture and kids teetering on the brink of adolescence. Despite the heavy underlying themes, Thompson adds dollops of humor in the right measure and the fast-paced plot will have her young audience reading furiously right up until the satisfying and realistic conclusion." --Louise George Kittaka, The Japan Times

"Jason is an American sixth grader living in Japan. As a foreigner, he stands out and is relentlessly bullied by his classmates while the teacher turns a blind eye. His only refuge is in the practice of Aikido, where he learns to center himself. The themes of bullying, feeling isolated, not fitting in, and striving to change the system are familiar landscape for Thompson, and fans of her teen books—Orchards (2011) and The Language Inside (2013, both Random)—will relish her first novel for younger readers. The plot builds slowly at first as the characters and setting are established. Readers' patience will be rewarded as the tension mounts between Jason and the bullies who torment him, leading to a heart-pounding climax when the games almost go too far. The free-verse format suits the story well, conveying Jason's emotions powerfully in few words, allowing readers to fill in the unsaid and mirroring the way Jason uses stoicism as a survival method at school. Those with some knowledge of Japanese culture will feel at ease with the setting right away, and those looking for a window to another culture will be intrigued by the realistic depiction of Japanese school life. Thompson provides a helpful glossary and cultural notes at the end, and graceful ink brush illustrations add to the atmosphere. VERDICT This stirring read will especially resonate with those who have been bullied—it will let them know they're not alone." --School Library Journal

"Jason’s family moved to Japan three years ago. Kamakura is an “out-of-the-way / seaside neighborhood / where hardly anyone / isn’t Japanese,” and Jason’s “the nail / that sticks out / just waiting / to be hammered down.” In school, he’s matched with five unfriendly classmates to sit, study, and do school chores with for the next two months. They taunt, punch, and kick him, even whacking him with a broom handle, ostensibly for getting a word wrong or having an accent. The text subtly yet steadily ratchets up suspense by using line breaks and spacing instead of periods; the free verse hums with a sense of impending danger. Is it the bullies that threaten or something natural, like a coastal typhoon? At the crisis moment, Jason’s sharp-as-a-tack younger sister leaps in to help, creating a satisfying culmination of their unidealized but deep and companionable relationship. Well crafted and emotionally compelling . . ." --Kirkus Reviews

Not all American expatriates live a cushy life in Japan. Jason would be in sixth grade back home, but he is fully immersed in the local public school, where, despite his excellent language skills, he sticks out like a sore thumb, attracting a vicious group of bullies. The teachers turn a blind eye as Jason suffers and the tension mounts between him and his tormentors. Meanwhile, his mother takes on extra English students, struggling to find tuition for the local American school, but will that day come soon enough? And how far will the bullies go in their quest to disgrace the American boy? To survive, Jason must rely on his own ability to listen to others, his powers of quiet observation, and, above all, his personal courage. Based on Thompson’s own family experiences living in Japan, the story rings true in every detail, and occasional, lovely brush-and-ink illustrations enhance the reader’s experience. The closing glossary is also helpful. --Booklist



The Language inside by Holly Thompson

Delacorte/Random House, May 2013
YALSA 2014 Best Fiction for Young Adults
Notable Books for a Global Society 2014
Bank Street Best Books of the Year 2014
Notable Books for the Language Arts 2014

THE LANGUAGE INSIDE Guide for Teachers and Readers (1.31 MB)

A Discussion, Writing, Activity & Service Guide for THE LANGUAGE INSIDE

THE LANGUAGE INSIDE Guide for Teachers and Readers

Print and share the extensive guide created for classrooms, book groups, readers and writers. Included are discussion questions, essay topics, poetry prompts, extension activities and service project ideas.


The Language Inside

Emma Karas was raised in Japan; it’s the country she calls home. But when her mother is diagnosed with breast cancer, Emma’s family moves to a town outside Lowell, MA, to stay with her grandmother while her mom undergoes treatment. Emma feels out of place in the U.S., begins to have migraines, and longs to be back in Japan. At her grandmother’s urging, she volunteers in a long-term care center to help Zena, a patient with locked-in syndrome, write down her poems. There, Emma meets Samnang, another volunteer, who assists elderly Cambodian refugees. Weekly visits to the care center, Zena’s poems, dance, and noodle soup bring Emma and Samnang closer, until Emma must make a painful choice: stay in Massachusetts, or return early to Japan. (Delacorte, 2013)

The Language Inside is a verse novel rich in language both spoken and unspoken and poetry that crosses boundaries to create a story layered with love, loss, movement and words.

Delacorte/Random House, May 2013

YALSA 2014 Best Fiction for Young Adults
Notable Books for a Global Society 2014
Notable Books for the Language Arts 2014
Bank Street Best Books of the Year 2014
A Librarians' Choices 2013 Book</>
New England Book Festival Honor Book, YA Category
Nominated--2014 Sakura Medal

*STARRED REVIEW* "Thompson captures perfectly the feeling of belonging elsewhere. A sensitive and compelling read that will inspire teens to contemplate how they can make a difference." --School Library Journal

"Thompson nimbly braids political tragedy, natural disaster, PTSD, connections among families, and a cautious, quiet romance into an elegant whole. This is an artistic picture of devastation, fragility, bonds and choices." --Kirkus Reviews

"At first, all the strands seem like too much . . . . But Thompson, working in a free-verse style that becomes a seamless piece of a world imbued with poetry, weaves them together skillfully. The result is a touching portrait of Emma working through loss and opportunity as Lowell becomes not just “not-Japan,” but the site of new connections and a possible romance." --Publisher's Weekly

"There’s a lot going on here, but Thompson keeps the many plot elements cohesive, and the vivid imagery in the lyrical free verse lends immediacy to Emma’s turbulent feelings. Readers will finish the book knowing that, like Zena, the Cambodian refugees, and the tsunami victims, Emma has the strength to “a hundred times fall down / a hundred and one times get up.” Lists of poems referenced in the narrative and recommended resources are appended." --The Horn Book Magazine

"I’m growing rather partial to Holly Thompson‘s ethnic-blending, boundary-crossing, expectation-defying titles for young adults." --BookDragon

“With beautiful language and deep sensitivity, Holly Thompson explores the courage it takes to find your own voice.” —Patricia McCormick, author of National Book Award finalist Never Fall Down

“Thompson’s eloquent novel speaks to us, carrying us along with Emma as she embarks on a life-altering journey from Japan to America. But it’s Emma’s inner journey that’s the true adventure—pulsing with pain and passion, with humor, heart, and hope.” —Sonya Sones, author of What My Mother Doesn’t Know and To Be Perfectly Honest


Order The Language Inside from Amazon.com

Order The Language Inside from Amazon Japan

Order The Language Inside from Random House


Orchards by Holly Thompson


2012 APALA Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature
A YALSA 2012 Best Fiction for Young Adults title
A Bank Street Books 2012 Best Children's Books of the Year title
SCBWI 2012 Crystal Kite Winner
2012-2013 Isinglass Teen Read Award nominee
A 2011 Librarians' Choice: Poetry title
Shortlisted Red Dot Book Award 2011-2012
Shortlisted Sakura Medal Award 2012

Orchards Book Group Discussion Guide (323 KB)

Ten discussion questions for Orchards


Delacorte/Random House, February 2011

After a classmate dies by suicide, Kana Goldberg—a half-Japanese, half-Jewish American—wonders who is responsible. She and her cliquey friends said some thoughtless things to the girl. Hoping that Kana will reflect on her behavior, her parents pack her off to her mother’s ancestral home in Japan for the summer. There Kana spends hours under the hot sun tending to her family’s mikan orange groves.

Kana’s mixed heritage makes it hard to fit in at first, especially under the critical eye of her traditional grandmother, who has never accepted Kana’s father. But as the summer unfolds, Kana gets to know her relatives, Japan, and village culture, and she begins to process the pain and guilt she feels about the tragedy back home. Then news about a friend sends her world spinning out of orbit all over again.

This novel in verse gives voice to the complex emotions of a girl whose anger, confusion, and regret transform into newfound compassion and a sense of purpose.

Published by Delacorte/Random House February 2011

2012 APALA Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature
A YALSA 2012 Best Fiction for Young Adults title
A Bank Street Books 2012 Best Children's Books of the Year title
SCBWI 2012 Crystal Kite Winner
2012-2013 Isinglass Teen Read Award nominee
A 2011 Librarians' Choice: Poetry title
Shortlisted Red Dot Book Award 2011-2012
Shortlisted Sakura Medal Award 2012

*STARRED REVIEW* "The narrative is rich in authentic cultural detail and is complemented by attractive woodcut illustrations of Japanese imagery to evoke the story’s setting. Thompson has crafted an exquisite, thought-provoking story of grief and healing that will resonate with teen readers and give them much to discuss." --School Library Journal

“A fast-paced page-turner that explores the rippling effects of suicide.” --Kirkus Reviews

“Eloquently captures a teenager's anger, guilt, and sorrow after a classmate takes her own life. . . . Understated yet potent verse.” --Publishers Weekly

“Readers will want to talk about the big issues, especially the guilt of doing nothing.” --Booklist

"Thompson expertly depicts the dualism in Kana.... Teens who enjoy learning about other cultures will relish Thompson's ability to evoke the sights, smells, an tastes of Japan, while poetry fans will enjoy the novel's unique format." --VOYA

"The impact of bullying, cruelty, and harsh words that cut deep are deftly woven into an eloquent novel that captures the essence of a teen surviving and coping with many forms of grief, loss, anger, hope, fear, blame, love, and regret. The verse lends itself to a quick, but powerful read; the novel is packed with events that keep readers turning the pages. Orchards is a novel that one wants to return to again after the last word. The contemporary issues that conflate teen relationships have universal significance for all teenagers, regardless of race or ethnicity. " Worlds of Words

"Thompson’s sparse pages speak volumes, from Kana’s complicit guilt, to her forced-to-be-wise-attempts to understand (“as though / we’re dressed up / in oversized adult clothing”), to her astute, gorgeous response to help her friends and classmates to heal … and live. Thompson confronts every-parent’s-nightmare-come-true with breathtaking clarity; Orchards is both a wake-up call and a haunting elegy. It’s not easy to read, but it’s undoubtedly a must-read." --BookDragon

"A true achievement. Stunning storytelling wrapped in remarkable poetry. Beautiful." --Ellen Hopkins, author of Crank and Fallout

"The free verse format makes for a quick read that will pull in young readers and hopefully make some of them think about how they act and react with their classmates . . . . A must read for middle schoolers and those who work with them." --Sue Bradford Edwards


Order Orchards (paperback) from Bookshop.org


Order Orchards (paperback) from Amazon.com

Order Orchards (Kindle edition) from Amazon.com

Order Orchards (paperback) from Amazon Japan

Order Orchards from Random House


The TOMO Reader's Guide (476 KB)

The Tomo Reader's Guide: Writing Activities and Discussion Questions for Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction

Eye-Ai Magazine article on Tomo (2.19 MB)

This Eye-Ai Magazine article on Tomo is a 2-page B&W printable PDF.

Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction--An Anthology of Japan Teen Stories

Stone Bridge Press, 2012

Tomo (meaning “friend” in Japanese) is an anthology of young adult short fiction in prose, verse and graphic art set in or related to Japan. This collection for readers age 12 and up features thirty-six stories—including ten in translation and two graphic narratives—contributed by authors and artists from around the world, all of whom share a connection to Japan. English-language readers will be able to connect with Japan through a wide variety of unique stories, including tales of friendship, mystery, fantasy, science fiction and history.

By sharing “friendship through fiction,” Tomo aims to bring Japan stories to readers worldwide, and in doing so, to help support young people affected or displaced by the March 11, 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami disasters. Proceeds from the sales of this book will go directly toward long-term relief efforts for teens in Tohoku, the area most affected by the disasters, in the northeast region of Japan’s main island, Honshu. To begin with, Tomo fund donations will go to the Japan-based NPO Hope for Tomorrow (hopetomorrow.jp), which in addition to providing educational expenses (including university entrance exam fees, travel costs to exam centers, etc.) also provides mentoring, tutoring, and foreign language support to high school students in hard-hit areas of Tohoku.

Edited and with a Foreword by Holly Thompson, Tomo contributing authors and artists include Andrew Fukuda (Crossing), Liza Dalby (The Tale of Murasaki), Tak Toyoshima (Secret Asian Man syndicated comic), Alan Gratz (The Brooklyn Nine), Wendy Nelson Tokunaga (Love in Translation), Deni Y. Béchard (Vandal Love), Debbie Ridpath Ohi (illustrator of I’m Bored), Graham Salisbury (Under the Blood-Red Sun), Naoko Awa (The Fox’s Window and Other Stories), Suzanne Kamata (The Beautiful One Has Come) and Shogo Oketani (J-Boys), among others.

Visit the Tomo Blog at tomoanthology.blogspot.com to stay updated on book events, read interviews with the contributors, learn how proceeds from the sales of the book will be used to help teens in Japan and more.

REVIEWS of Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction--An Anthology of Japan Teen Stories

"A big but consistently engaging pro bono anthology of authors with direct or indirect Japanese 'heritage or experience.' A broadly appealing mix of the tragic and droll, comforting, disturbing, exotic and universal, with nary a clinker in the bunch." --Kirkus Reviews

"Tomo is an excellent story collection, presenting a rich and varied immersion in Japanese culture from a teen perspective." --VOYA

"With slices of Japanese language, folklore, history, popular culture, and other ethnic references, Tomo, which means friend in Japanese, offers a unique and wide-ranging taste of Japanese life." --Booklist

"The thirty-six stories. . . cover a wide range of genres (prose, verse, graphic narratives) and feature nine stories translated from the Japanese. With the exception of Graham Salisbury and Alan Gratz, most of the authors, many of whom write for adults, will be new to American teens." --The Horn Book, Out of the Box

"The stories in Tomo, "friend" in Japanese, resonate beyond the confines of tragedy in the Tohoku region to reflect a generation who will grow up indelibly marked but not defeated by 3/11...There is sadness and suicide, loss and, yes, the tsunami. But these stories equally cover everything important to the younger generation as entrance exams, ghosts, J-pop, love, divorce, baseball, gamers, ninjas and dragons coordinate to form a whole." --The Japan Times

"This collection of short stories and poems about Japanese teens is weird and wonderful, studded with the unique color of Japanese teen pop culture, as well as the impact of defining events from the twenty-first century to the present: Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, the tsunami, earthquake and nuclear disaster . . . . There's something fabulously specific about the pop culture references that can make reading Tomo: Friendship through Fiction feel like a virtual tour of Japan." --Barnes and Noble Review

"The teen protagonists are written with sympathy and intuition, and the stories are all executed with confidence. . . . this collection was divided into ones I liked, and ones I liked more." --Asian Review of Books

Order Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction (Kindle edition) from Amazon.com


Order Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction (Kindle edition) from Amazon Japan

Order Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction from Stone Bridge Press


The Wakame Gatherers

Shen's/Lee & Low, October 2007, paperback 2022
A bicultural girl in Japan goes wakame seaweed gathering with her Japanese and American grandmothers. Nanami must serve as translator for the two women, whom she comes to understand were at war when they were her age. Included after the story are an author’s note about wakame, a glossary of Japanese words used, and recipes for wakame by Nanami and each of her grandmothers.


View The Wakame Gatherers Read-Aloud Video with info about wakame cultivation and harvesting.

Download the Teacher's Guide for The Wakame Gatherers, featuring

-Summary and background information
-Prereading focus questions
-Discussion questions
-Ideas for literature circles
-Ideas for reader’s response and writing activities
-Strategies for ESL/ELL
-Interdisciplinary activities and connections

And visit Texts and Contexts: Teaching Japan Through Children's Literature online curriculum, a collection of teacher-developed, standards-based, cross-curricular K-6 lessons, featuring The Wakame Gatherers.

Comments and Reviews

"A Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People 2009" selected by the National Council for the Social Studies in cooperation with the Children's Book Council

"This is a heartwarming example of how being from different cultures, countries, and races and speaking another language are not really barriers to appreciation and acceptance..." --Multicultural Review, Fall 2008, Vol. 17, No. 3

“Nanami is the translator when her Japanese and American grandmothers harvest wakame, a seaweed eaten in Japan. Their pleasant collaboration inspires each woman’s memories of seaside living and World War II. Though their granddaughter is momentarily upset by her conflicted heritage, all three quickly promise ‘to protect the peace.’”—School Library Journal, East Meets West, April 2008

“The loving relationship between grandchild and grandparent takes on an added dimension in this touching story of intergenerational communication and connection. Japan-based author Holly Thompson, originally from New England, demonstrates a comfort level with both cultures by providing accurate details of life in coastal Maine and shoreline Japan. In the Author’s Note, more information about types of edible seaweed, a small Japanese glossary, and wakame recipes add heft to the cultural richness of the book. The Wakame Gatherers is a good example of how common experiences can bring people together across oceans and through time. It reminds us that reaching greater understanding of one another is always worth the journey.”—PaperTigers, March 2008

“Holly Thompson’s warmly told, richly detailed story, illustrated by Japanese artist Kazumi Wilds, is a celebration of family.”—Children’s Cooperative Book Council, Choices 2008

“Enthusiastic color paintings illustrate this wonderful tale about family togetherness and forming connections between cultures.”—Midwest Book Review, Children’s Book Watch, March 2008

“Seaweed binds two grandmothers and two cultures together—one in Japan, one from Maine. A delightful book with kindness and union after a long-ago yet personal war. A granddaughter translates; there are just enough words to flavor the narrative and bind the two cultures together. Both story and pictures are awash with detail and imagination. Illustrations brighten the text—a solid blend of both talents. Back matter, consisting of information, recipes and glossary are extremely useful. The book, The Wakame Gatherers, is highly recommended.”—Juneau Public Libraries Juvenile Book Review Committee

Holly Thompson’s The Wakame Gatherers is a marvel, a story of two grandmothers—one an American, the other Japanese—narrated by their mutual granddaughter in whom the two disparate cultures and blood merge. And what better catalyst for the happy union than food? The story revolves around the harvesting of wakame, a variety of seaweed much loved in Japan and, until recently, quite unknown in America. The Wakame Gatherers is very good for the heart.
—Allen Say, author of Kamishibai Man and the Caldecott Medal-winning Grandfather’s Journey

Two grandmothers, one Japanese and one American. They cannot speak each other’s language and live—literally—oceans apart. The tie that binds them is their young granddaughter, Nanami. Gentle yet compelling, The Wakame Gatherers is a moving tribute to the power of family love that will resonate with any child of two cultures.
—Pamela Turner, author of Hachiko and Gorilla Doctors

With detail and grace, this ambitious picture book presents the food, language and love of two grandmothers, one Japanese and one from Maine. Bicultural families especially will identify with the special challenges and rewards experienced by their growing ranks. Share this story then indulge your cravings for miso soup and a lobster sandwich!
—Matthew Gollub, author of The Jazz Fly and Cool Melons—Turn to Frogs!

A tasty and memorable story that will lift your eyes, take you beyond two different oceans, and celebrate two cultures. These playful wakame gatherers harvest at the heart!
—Yangsook Choi, author of Behind the Mask and The Name Jar

Order The Wakame Gatherers from Lee & Low Books

Order The Wakame Gatherers from Bookshop.org

Order The Wakame Gatherers from Amazon.com

Order The Wakame Gatherers from Amazon Japan


About Wakame
For various blog posts with photos and video about wakame gathering and wakame cultivation, search posts with the label "wakame" in Holly's HATbooks blog.

Seaweeds are large algae that grow in salt water all over the world. There are three main types of seaweed: green, brown and red. Wakame is a brown seaweed, but when boiled, it changes color to bright green.

The Latin name for wakame is Undaria pinnatifida, and it is one of the most commonly eaten seaweeds in Japan.

Harvesting Wakame
In Japan, wakame is harvested from winter through spring and into summer in some colder areas. Fresh wakame can be found in markets during this harvest season, and dried wakame is available in Japan year-round. In North America, dried wakame can be found in Asian and natural food stores (the Atlantic equivalent of wakame is alaria).

Most of the wakame eaten in Japan is cultivated on ropes in the open sea and harvested several months later, but fishing communities also still cut and gather wakame that grows naturally on rocks not far from shore. And people like Nanami’s grandmother still wade into the surf to gather wakame that washes ashore in early spring.

Cooking with Wakame
Dried wakame needs to be soaked in lukewarm water for about 20 minutes to be rehydrated; it will swell to about twice its size! After soaking, cut away any midrib or other tough sections (not necessary if your wakame is the pre-chopped variety). If you want your wakame to turn bright green, drop it into boiling water, then remove with tongs or a slotted spoon and quickly rinse in cold water. You can also drop chopped wakame into soup just before serving. Wakame is high in nutrients and should not be boiled or simmered for more than a minute, or it will lose these important nutrients. Wakame has a nice crisp texture and is delicious in soups and salads.

Eating Wakame
Wakame is eaten in many forms—chopped in soups and salads, minced and mixed with salt and sesame seeds as a rice topping, toasted and dried as snack food, and even sweetened in candies. Try the recipes in the book, or click on the link below for a PDF file of Koshigoe, Kamakura, wakame recipes.

Koshigoe Wakame Recipes (213 KB)

In addition to the recipes at the back of The Wakame Gatherers here is a collection of local wakame recipes donated by the Koshigoe community of Kamakura, the model setting for The Wakame Gatherers.

Ash - A Novel

Stone Bridge Press, 2001

Caitlin Ober is back in Japan teaching English in remote Kagoshima, opposite the increasingly active volcano Sakurajima. Beneath ominous clouds of ash, Caitlin travels her school rounds with waning enthusiasm. After hours she swims intently, hangs with a group of windsurfers, and attempts to keep her boyfriend, Hiroshi, at bay. She concocts lies and self-deceptions to prevent a tragic childhood incident in Kyoto from intruding on her present. But, like the ash that veils the city, guilt obscures her path. Then, in an ash-coated garden, Caitlin encounters a half-Japanese teenager, Naomi, wrangling with her double identity. Naomi seems to require Caitlin’s rescue, and by degrees the two swap morsels of self-truths. Ultimately they travel to Kyoto during the summer festival of O-Bon, when the spirits of the dead revisit the living. There, amid bonfires, temple rites, and ghostly memories, Caitlin bravely begins to embrace her future.

New Adult, Adult.

Order Ash from Amazon.com

Order Ash from Amazon Japan

Order Ash from Stone Bridge Press


“Backed by meticulous research, Thompson’s novel introduces a variety of topics that can be usefully pursued by high school or college level students studying contemporary Japan: details of geography and daily life, the role of O-Bon and beliefs about death, the challenges faced by bicultural and bilingual children growing up in Japan, and the double vision developed by expatriate Caitlin herself.”—Jean Kushida, Education About Asia, Spring 2004

“Ash is a gorgeous debut that takes the expatriate-in-Japan novel well beyond the genre into lasting art.”—Leza Lowitz, Kyoto Journal, Issue 50, 2002

“Ash is a standout in the growing body of literature written by non-Japanese and set in Japan. Richly and precisely observed, it resonates with the kind of phrases you want to linger over.”—Daily Yomiuri, December 23, 2001

"At every turn, you will be surprised by the depth and breadth of [the author's] heart, her ability to create characters (particularly Naomi, the lost teen) that will stay with you and compel you through the rest of the story... [Ash] is a paean to friendship and to the courage of moving forward, which rings particularly loudly in these dark times."—Book Reporter, November 2001

"With plenty of insight into Japanese culture… this thoughtful debut should satisfy readers in search of a convincing fictional take on life in contemporary Japan."—Publishers Weekly, October 1, 2001

"With phrasing as delicate as that of a Haiku, first-time novelist Holly Thompson crafts a deeply moving story that crosses cultural, emotional and even sexual barriers. A wonderful debut.”—January Magazine's Best of 2001

"Warmth and restrained detail bring the characters, especially Mie's mother, Harumi, and sister, Nobuko, convincingly to life… For all Caitlin's frustration with Japan's society, the author's own appreciation of its people glows even in two sketches, gentle and persuasive, of Naomi's Japanese grandfather and the elderly widow of the priest to whose house Caitlin was carried, rigid with shock, after [the tragic childhood incident]."—Japan Times, November 25, 2001

"A haunting tale of love and loss, of destruction and resilience . . . a stirring reminder that our most moving stories are often written in the ash of disaster."—Linda Watanabe McFerrin, author of Namako: Sea Cucumber

"Holly Thompson has a gift for bringing the mind's eye to focus on the details of the moment, whether it be the relentless falling ash of Kagoshima, or a snack of grilled squid legs and barley tea. Her tale of lost companionship, guilt, and redemption takes place against a minutely and lovingly woven tapestry of daily life in modern Japan."—Alex Kerr, author of Dogs and Demons and Lost Japan

"A wonderfully insightful novel about a young woman living within two cultures. Thompson adeptly explores the lasting bonds of friendship and the courage needed to face the past in order to embrace the future."—Gail Tsukiyama, author of Women of the Silk and The Samurai’s Garden

Stories, Poems, Articles, Essays, Anthologies, etc.

Holly Thompson's short stories, poems, articles, essays and more can be found in anthologies, journals, magazines and books  here.