Kiki Kicks

Kiki Kicks
Co-Authors / Illustrators
Age Range
Release Date
October 10, 2023
Buy This Book
"I want to be strong for the right reasons."

Kiki has watched her mama practice karate for a long time, and now she wants to learn too. She wants to become strong and steady like a mountain. The bullies at school are strong for the wrong reasons. They make Kiki feel small. But today at her first karate lesson, everything changes.

Award-winning author Jane Yolen joins forces with debut author Ariel Stemple in this picture book about reclaiming strength, confidence, and peace through martial arts. This lyrical story of self-empowerment at a martial arts studio is woven around the poetic lines of Yolen's well-known poem "Karate Kid," used by educators and librarians for decades. Backmatter includes personal notes from the authors about how this story came to be and how martial arts helped save Stemple who was bullied as a child.

Editor review

1 review
Good Introduction to Karate
Overall rating
Writing Style
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
Young Kiki's mother and brother both practice karate, but she doesn't feel ready. When kids at school are unkind and start to bully her, she decides it is finally time to take up the sport because with will help her summon her inner calm and confidence. It's not easy, but she works hard at it, and begins to understand the philosophy behind the poses and movements. She may not yet be the mountain that her mother is, but she is trying her best to be a hill for now. This story is told alongside Yolen's poem from a Lee Bennett Hopkins anthology of sports writing and the words are woven into the new tale that she penned along with her grandchild.

Good Points
The illustrations employ a lot of grays, greens, and pops of yellow and orange, with Kiki's eyeglasses anchoring many of the pages. There are some Asian elements on the pages that echo Japanese woodblock prints, such as wind, flowers, trees, and animals, which is a nice tie-in. There's a nice sense of movement in the characters that helps move the story forward.

While most of the story is not in poetry, it is still told in a gentle, lyrical way, and gently shows Kiki's persistence. I would have liked to know more about why her brother was already taking instruction and she didn't feel ready, but this is a picture book, not a novel! It's good to see a character building resilience, and Kiki ends the story with a lot more confidence in standing up to people who give her a hard time.

Children who are interested pursuing Karate or other martial arts would be well advised to pick up Kiki Kicks along with Sterling's Karate Kids, Karate Kid by Kurstedt and Chambers, Little Ninja Goes to the Dojo by David Farris or Pinkney's classic 1998 JoJo's Flying Sidekick.
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