“When the Cousins Came” Review in The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

“Our narrator, Lila, is thrilled when her cousins Rosie and Takeo come to visit. They have their own ways (skateboards rather than a bike), but that just adds to their allure (Everything the cousins did was a little bit extra special). The visit culminates in a campout, originally planned for outside until the rain poured down and then happening in the house; though Lila is initially hurt at the cousins’ creation of a separate tent for themselves, soon the three join the tents together, and when Rosie and Takeo depart, Lila glows at the happy note they leave for her. Yamasaki keeps the story engaging without resorting to major conflict, making it clear that this is a fond extended family where minor differences (who uses chopsticks, who goes outside at night) might cause a moment of awkwardness but don’t interfere with the pleasure of hanging out with cool kids you don’t see that often. Mixed-media art puts strong painterly figures in immersive full-bleed spreads, with creative and varied compositions adding energy; Yamasaki displays her muralist’s sensibility in the balance of glowing color and in the strong modeling of the faces of the family members, with varied skin tones and hair that make it clear this is a multicultural clan. Like Frazee’s A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever (BCCB 03/08) if a tad gentler, this is a celebration of the happy alchemy of kids creating their own activities together.”

-Reviewed from galleys, June 2018 issue of The Bulletin

“When the Cousins Came” Review in The Horn Book Magazine

“Lila is excited to have her city cousins, Rosie and Takeo, visit. She’s happy when they do her hair—Rosie, with her two-puffball hairdo, redoes Lila’s braids into more of a ‘shark fin’ like Takeo’s—and when they play outside (‘We brought our own wheels,’ says skateboard-holding Rosie). When Lila sees her cousins using chopsticks better than she can, and when they hold each other’s hands in the dark, she starts to feel left out. On their last night together, Lila proposes camping. ‘No way…Too scary,’ say Takeo and Rosie, and rain further foils the plan. But Pop suggests camping indoors—the perfect idea! While the text never mentions the ethnicity of the characters, Lila’s ethnic identity appears to be different from that of her cousins, and the story positively depicts how barriers can be erased when kids who may not look alike, or have all the same experiences, spend time together. Yamasaki’s vibrant mixed-media collage illustrations convey this family well; butterflies that appear on the cover and surround the kids frequently may be intended as metaphors for unity or happiness (though they occasionally are visually distracting). In any case, this is a useful mirror book for many readers as well as a quiet story of how people from different backgrounds and cultures can meet halfway and learn from each other.”

– Michelle H. Martin, July/August 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine


Read more at www.hbook.com

“Honda: The Boy Who Dreamed of Cars” Chapter Book

Happy to announce that “Honda: The Boy Who Dreamed of Cars” has been converted into a chapter book for older readers! Illustrations are edited down from the original picture book version (also still in print) and now appear in black and white, but I am so happy that this book will now reach a broader group of readers!

More here.

“When the Cousins Came” Starred Review from School Library Journal

“K-Gr 2–Lila eagerly anticipates the arrival of her two cousins who are visiting from the city. She is excited to have children her own age to play with, but when Rosie and Takeo arrive things don’t go exactly as Lila imagines. They have cool hairstyles instead of a plain braid like Lila. They skateboard instead of biking. “Everything the cousins did was a little bit special,” observes Lila after they show her how they make huge graffiti-inspired chalk-art outside. At dinner they ask for chopsticks, which Lila has never used and didn’t even know her family owned. The cousins are never unkind—they style Lila’s hair, take turns with the bike and skateboards, and give Lila tips on using chopsticks, but Lila still feels a bit inferior. After dark, Lila is excited to take her cousins for a walk and look for fireflies, but the cousins are nervous about being out at night and Lila again feels like an outsider.

“Lila’s worry that her cousins don’t enjoy the things she wants to share with them lasts throughout the visit, but doesn’t make the story gloomy or heavy. The gentle plot captures the nuance of childhood friendships, and how small things can loom large for sensitive children like Lila. Yamasaki’s lively mixed-media illustrations evoke strong feelings, and small background details reflect the author’s own experience growing up as part of a large family. VERDICT A refreshing, reassuring, and honest story about family and friendship that stands out amid a sea of pat friendship stories.”

– Anna Haase Krueger, Ramsey County Library, MN

Review of ‘When the Cousins Came’ by Booklist Advanced Review

“A planned campout is cancelled due to rain, but the children make an elaborate indoor tent, one big enough for all three of them to share. Mixed-media collage illustrations, incorporating acrylic, gouache, pastels, colored pencil, and hand-painted cut paper, beautifully present the multiethnic family.”

– Lucinda Whitehurst

Review of ‘When the Cousins Came’ by Johns Hopkins University Press

“Mixed-media art puts strong painterly figures in immersive full-bleed spreads, with creative and varied compositions adding energy; Yamasaki displays her muralist’s sensibility in the balance of glowing color and in the strong modeling of the faces of the family members, with varied skin tones and hair that make it clear this is a multicultural clan.”

– Deborah Stevenson, Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

Read the full review on Johns Hopkins University Press.

‘When the Cousins Came’ Starred Review by Kirkus

“In a story that’s reminiscent of “The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse,” a young mixed Japanese-white girl savors creating summer memories with her cousins.

“The night before the cousins came, I couldn’t sleep.” Country girl Lila is excited to host city cousins Rosie and Takeo, who sport hair styled in “two puffy balls” and “a little shark fin,” respectively. Her bucket list is full of simple pleasures, such as painting and camping outside. Luckily for her, her cousins are game, and they take turns teaching each other new things, such as skateboarding, riding a bike, and how to eat with chopsticks, “ ‘Hold them like this,’ said Takeo. I tried…and tried.” (The page offers four amusing scenes of Lila first awkwardly using the unfamiliar utensils and then finally gaining mastery.) Lila also introduces her cousins to fireflies. “ ‘What is that?!?’ asked Takeo. I caught a firefly and cupped it in my hands. The firefly bumped gently against the walls of my palms. ‘Just look,’ I whispered to Rosie.” Yamasaki uses deceptively simple, carefully chosen language for the brief blocks of text on each page. The rest of the story is told through her paintings, which are defined by bright brush strokes of color. The overall effect is a quiet story that captures all those small cherished moments in childhood.

“A rare find about family featuring a mixed-raced protagonist. (Picture book. 4-7)”

Read the review on kirkusreviews.com

Looking back, looking forward in 2017

2016 was an incredibly challenging year for many, and my husband and I were no exception. In February, I was 9 months pregnant and our baby boy was stillborn just weeks from his due date. The loss was shocking after a perfectly healthy pregnancy, and devastating beyond anything I have experienced before. We have both spent much of the last year learning how to carry our grief as we move forward with life. The support and compassion extended to us by our families, friends and colleagues has been beyond anything we could have imagined. We would not have survived the past year without it.

I took time off before returning to work- I was in the middle of writing and illustrating “When the Cousins Came,” with Holiday House, and beginning my grandfather’s picture book bio with multicultural publisher Lee & Low. I also was in the planning stages of a mural about gun violence and reconciliation with Vito Valdez in Detroit. There was work to be done, but it took time to get to a place where I could actually do it. My editors, Grace Maccarone at Holiday House and Louise May at Lee & Low were beyond patient and supportive. There was no rush. My first mentor wrote me a letter and told me about how when his wife passed away, he was in the midst of a book with a significant deadline, but how making the work helped him learn to process and carry his grief. I was so grateful for that letter and found the same to be true for me.

The little bedroom that was to be our baby’s room was transformed into a small studio for me and I was able to stay home and work near the little shrine that we had made for him. There was an ease to working at home, where I could ride out the waves of grief as they came. So, from those months at home, in the quiet of the recently converted studio, the work for “When the Cousins Came” came into being.

I was also lucky at that time to be working with my good friend Kien Nguyen at Philadelphia Mural Arts on the design for a project that will go on the opposite side of a wall we painted at Smith Playground in 2014. Our project manager understands more than most the struggle of learning to live with grief and she truly helped me kind of pace myself and be easy as it was a time like no other. After MANY drafts and design reviews, we finally finished that mural design and had it approved just a couple of weeks ago.

The greatest blessing of a project this year came from a collaboration with the Women & Justice Project and Hour Children. I had a great feeling about the project from the email I got from Tamar, Jaya and Miyhosi at WJP and will be forever grateful to them for finding me. I wrote extensively about this project in its portfolio under the “Work” section of my site if you care to read about the details.

I was able to work with about 20-30 formerly incarcerated women and their children on a project that explored the idea of “Transformation.” These are women who have faced some of the hardest, most unspeakable hardships this life has to offer and every day they are devoted to making life better, making the world a more just place for other women and children. They know, better than anyone I’ve ever met, trauma, grief and suffering. But the lives they are living are lives of healing, support, determination, optimism and honesty. Being around women who shared so deeply, cared so much and spoke so much truth was incredibly healing for me and I will forever be grateful that this project came around when it did. Without knowing it, the women I collaborated with on this project helped me learn how to be brave again.

I also felt so fortunate to come across Sister Tesa Fitzgerald, the fearless leader of Hour Children (www.hourchildren.org) during this project. She reminded me of my Catholic Worker grandparents, my aunts and uncles, my mother . . . all the people who taught us that being a good person in the world, whether Catholic or otherwise, just means being guided by love and doing the work. Working with Hour Children and WJP just felt like being home when I needed it most.

With this project and so many others, with our loss and with our grief, I thought so much about interconnectedness. Maybe some of you remember that last year I did a project with Amnesty International about a woman in El Salvador named Teodora del Carmen Vasquez who had been sentenced to 30 years in prison after her baby was stillborn in her 9th month while she was at work. She was charged with the aggravated homicide of her stillborn baby. When I painted that mural, I was 7 months pregnant. I was enjoying what seemed to be a perfect pregnancy. I was healthy, energetic, joyful with the new life of my son growing inside me. I identified with her as a human being, as a woman, as someone who was pregnant . . . but at that time, never could I have imagined her loss and her punishment. Still, to this day, I cannot imagine her experience. When our baby died, we were enveloped in love and support- from the medical team around us, to our friends, family and community who somehow knew just what to do in an impossible situation. I can only begin to imagine the devastation of her loss, where instead of support, she received recrimination and punishment for her deepest tragedy. It is unimaginable. I think of her often. I think of the other women incarcerated in El Salvador for the same thing. I worry about reproductive rights for women around the country and world- the sickness of her sentence is symptomatic of a country that does not believe in the reproductive rights of women, nor do they provide prenatal healthcare for anyone beyond the very wealthy. It is dangerous, tragic territory to tread.

For most of the last year, I could barely speak about that project. The irony of losing my baby after painting a mural of a woman who suffered the same loss at the same time was too acute. But I also think there is a beauty in the interconnectedness of all of our suffering, all of our joy. You never know what people have lived through. You never know what it takes for anyone to go out into the world and be brave and stand up for the rights of others. I learned that from the Women & Justice Project and the women of Hour Children. I learn that with every project. I also have heard so many stories since our own loss that remind me that we share so much with so many and it’s so important to have a platform to tell our stories.

Now, when I am making new work, I am always thinking about my son. He is in every illustration, in every mural, in every brushstroke and pencil mark. He lives with me always. The shock and trauma of the loss will be there as long as it needs to be, the grief is here to stay, but that’s okay. I read somewhere that grief is just learning to live with death. That is what I am working on. It’s the most painful lesson to learn, but I’m so blessed to be able to share this grief, this pain with my amazing, compassionate husband, our loving families and community. Together, we are all learning to gain some acceptance of, and maybe eventually surrender to, the simple truth that there is so much mystery in life, so many things so far beyond our control. Like everything, that understanding is a work in progress.

As I look into 2017, I look forward with an open heart. I am regaining my optimism. I have projects I am excited about, collaborating partners who thrill me. I have a new agent who believes in my stories and my work. There is, indeed, so much to look forward to . . . so much to be thankful for.

Thank you for reading this, the most personal piece I have ever published. I wish you and your beloveds the very happiest and healthiest in 2017.