When the cousins came

Author-illustrator Katie Yamasaki has the privilege of finishing her sentences with her own paintbrush. ‘When the Cousins Came’ is a holistic text-picture that shows, not just tells, the story of a multicultural, mixed race family.

  • Title: When the Cousins Came
  • Author: Katie Yamasaki
  • Illustrator: Katie Yamasaki
  • Reading level: 4-8 years
  • Date published: July 3, 2018
  • Publisher: Holiday House
  • Country: USA
  • Country printed in: China
  • Eco-friendly Printing: None specified
  • This book bought on Amazon and delivered to Dubai, UAE

Lila’s cousins Rosie and Takeo come to visit. They do regular things kids do when they get together. They do each other’s hair, ride bikes, have dinner,  catch fireflies, paint, and play camp indoors when it’s raining outside. The cousins are multicultural and mixed race but this is not the headline story. What you’ll probably go away with is the remembrance of growing up with cousins and the things you got up to in your childhood with them. Told in the first person, as seen through Lila’s eyes, this is the quotidian-ness of every family, even the multicultural, mixed race ones.

Yet, the book itself will get the headlines because of the lack of children’s publications addressing ethnic diversity. Yamasaki weaves the cousins’ mixed race peculiarities into their regular activities. Particularly, we see their different hair textures addressed when Lila wants a similar hairstyle to Takeo, and Lila has trouble eating with chopsticks, which her cousins request to use for their noodles. Yamasaki subtly reveals Lila’s entire mixed race background in only two matter-of-fact depictions: in the appearance of her mother and her father.

What’s especially satisfying about ‘When the Cousins Came’ is seeing how text and illustrations complete each other to form a whole. Yamasaki’s text is mostly matter-of-fact, like a reportage of what the cousins get up to during a weekend. Alongside this reportage, her illustrations provide the textures and colours (pun intended) that complete the story.