A furry feline has sumo-sized aspirations in this Japan-set tale. A stray black-and-white kitty with round emerald eyes watches a sumo match from afar and then follows a group of rikishi back to the heya, where the pickings are good. Caught by the manager of the training center, the feline narrator is offered a place to stay: “Kuma is afraid of mice. Can you get rid of them?” The arrangement hits a snag when the Kitty’s weight gain affects its efficiency as a mouser and it is turned out of the heya. Dejected, Kitty gives up until Kuma quietly offers encouragement: “The cat that does not cry catches the mouse.” Kuma and Kitty are shown in action side by side, showcasing their parallel use of sumo moves. Japanese terms are defined, with pronunciation guides, next to the text: “shiko (shee-koh): leg stomp.” While Kitty finds the strength to reclaim its place and is deemed SumoKitty, Kuma now must face his own fear of mice in order to overcome his biggest sumo opponent. Kitty’s straightforward narration is set against comically charming illustrations that evoke scenes from classic Japanese woodblock art. Extensive research is expressed in both the inclusion of Japanese terms and the detailed illustrations. However, the inclusion of the Indian spiritual practice of yoga as part of the rikishi’s training regimen seems unlikely given sumo’s own deeply traditional and spiritual nature. SumoKitty’s antics delight despite a muffed cultural detail.
“. . . deceptively simple. . .”
—School Library Journal