The Night Parade
2016 Winner - Freeman Book Award for Young Adult / Middle School Literature "The last thing Saki Yamamoto wants to do for her summer vacation is trade in exciting Tokyo for the antiquated rituals and bad cell reception of her grandmother’s village. Preparing for the Obon ceremony is boring. Then the local kids take interest in Saki and she sees an opportunity for some fun, even if it means disrespecting her family’s ancestral shrine on a malicious dare. But as Saki rings the sacred bell, the darkness shifts. A death curse has been invoked...and Saki has three nights to undo it. With the help of three spirit guides and some unexpected friends, Saki must prove her worth-or say goodbye to the world of the living forever..."
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The Night Parade
Middle School 6-8
Sacred Heart Elementary School
The Night Parade, by Kathryn Tanquary, is a fantasy novel set in modern-day Japan. We follow Saki, a teenage girl, as she visits her grandmother in a rural mountain village to celebrate the festival of Obon. During her time there, she is persuaded by some local teens to disrespect a shrine and to ring a sacred bell, which invokes a curse that Saki must break in three nights’ time. She is guided by three spirits on a dangerous quest to break the curse and save herself and her family. As Saki meets her three spirit guides, she transforms from a sullen, self-centered young girl who doesn’t care about her family’s traditions to a courageous, mature character that readers can’t help but root for! The vivid imagery and unique cast of characters are reminiscent of Studio Ghibli films, which will appeal to fans of fantasy and adventure.
The Night Parade presents readers with a basic introduction to Japanese mythology and Shinto spirits. The author expertly mixes fantasy, Shinto tradition, and Japanese mythology in an exciting tale that is sure to keep middle schoolers engaged. Teachers may wish to give students the chance to compare and contrast the folklore in this novel to other stories and myths that they are more familiar with. Teachers should take into account that there may be a few Japanese words that young readers are unfamiliar with, such as torii, Geta, yukata, etc. It might be helpful to show students corresponding images in order to help them better visualize some of the descriptions in the story.
Another theme at the forefront of this novel is the importance of family and tradition The novel is set during the Japanese festival of Obon, which is a yearly event that honors deceased ancestors. This could easily lead into a student discussion about their own family traditions and how deceased family members are honored in different cultures around the world.
Finally, The Night Parade explores the potential consequences of giving in to negative peer pressure - in fact, it is this peer pressure, and desire to be accepted, that puts the main plot in motion. The novel's portrayal of friendships, both positive and negative, could lead to important discussions about how to make new friends, how to be a good friend, and what behaviors can promote positive friendships among teens.
Overall, I felt this book was a fun dive into Japanese fantasy, while, at the same time, presenting valuable lessons for middle school students. I think this novel would be most appropriately used in either a language arts or social studies class at the middle school level.
The Night Parade Review
Once I started this book it was hard to put down! The author uses a unique craft to incorporate the Japanese folktale and culture into a feel good, relatable novel about an adolescent girl trying to find her place in the world and amongst her family and friends. As the story goes on, there is much to learn from the Japanese culture and I would use this as a tool in my classroom to not only delve deeper into that culture, but to also show that the plot of the girl struggling to find herself is extremely relateable to the students although the culture is different.
I would definitely use this as a supplemental material in my classroom, and I think it would be a good novel to use in a middle school classroom!
Conn-Area Catholic School
The Night Parade
The Night Parade is an exciting read that is hard to put down! It follows the story of Saki, a thirteen year old who is more interested in her phone than in traditions. When her family leaves Tokyo to spend the Obon Festival with her grandmother, Saki is sure that she will have to endure the three most boring days of her life. Saki halfheartedly joins in the traditional ceremonies to honor her ancestors, but when she meets some local teens bent on going up to the graveyard, she decides to join them as they seek the spirits.
What follows is a journey to stop a death curse unleashed by the teens’ actions. The spirits that Saki invoked in the graveyard visit her one by one and lead her on an amazing journey as they join the Night Parade, a yearly pilgrimage made by the spirits. To stop the death curse, Saki must battle a witch, an army of insects, and ogres. Along the way, she makes friends, becomes more confident, and learns to connect with her grandmother on a deeper level.
Kathryn Tanquary seamlessly weaves Japanese legends into a modern tale that is sure to engage middle school students. She introduces readers to Japanese folklore in a very comprehensible way. Tanquary writes with ease about Japanese culture in The Night Parade, and readers who are new to Japanese culture will quickly catch on to, and appreciate, how unique it is.
This book would be easy to incorporate in the middle school classroom. To enhance the reader’s experience, teachers may want show students pictures of geta, yukata, tanuki, tengu, or torri gates, which are all mentioned in the novel. These would also be good vocabulary words to include in a unit. Students could read about Japanese folklore and mythology. Here, they could learn more about tanuki, tengu, and fox spirits, all of which play an important part in the novel. Students could even write their own folklore or mythology story incorporating these characters.
Teachers could have their students learn about the Japanese festival of Obon. Then, they could have their students use a Venn Diagram to compare and contrast Obon with a holiday that the students celebrate. One holiday that teachers may want to have students study along with Obon is Dia de los Muertos. An expository paper then could be written explaining how these holidays are similar and different. Also, students could write a narrative describing their favorite holiday or family tradition.
Social studies could be integrated into a unit, as well. Students could locate Tokyo on a map. They could measure the distance from Tokyo to small villages around the city and predict which one Saki’s grandma might live in. They could also create a physical map of Japan or the Tokyo region. They could use the information in the story to create their own map of Saki’s grandma’s village and include a map key which shows the location of the shrine and torri gates.
An engrossing novel for middle school students.
Middle School 6-8
Language Arts and Social Studies
Queen of Angels Catholic School
The novel, The Night Parade, is a fantasy intended for a middle school audience. Although it doesn’t require a great deal of knowledge about Japanese history I found it helpful to have seen pictures of the Shinto temples because I was able to visualize the action in the novel. I think that students will pick up on the polytheism presented in the book without needing any background knowledge.
The storyline is not just about a young girl learning to appreciate her heritage. She also learns how to handle real life social skills by interacting with total strangers and members of the spirit world. As with all good young adult literature, the main character is transformed through her experiences in the novel.
The story begins as Saki arrives at her grandmother’s home for the Shinto festival of Obon where the ancestors are summoned from the dead. Saki’s grandfather has passed and she reluctantly has come with her family to her father’s hometown for the festivities. Like most teenagers spending time away from her friends, Saki is bored with small town life at grandma’s home on the mountainside. Saki must take part in the rituals of Obon: lighting a fire, scrubbing the gravestones, the purification rite, and leaving offerings on the graves. She has no interest in these traditions.
Saki meets up with some seemingly interesting young people at the town festival and she sneaks off with them to the graveyard where the delinquent kids summon forth ghosts while playing the game Kokkuri-san. Saki is tricked by the group and forced to take on their punishment. She has to enter the temple and ring the sacred bell. Of course, she alone is caught and punished while the delinquents get away scot-free.
The next night Saki is visited by the first of three spirits from the afterlife. She is heading to the palace of the Prince to undo the curse that was put on her in the graveyard. The spirits are animal spirits: a raccoon with 4 lit tails, a large vulture-like bird, and a fox. Each spirit takes her along a roadway while the night parade is going on. The night parade coincides with Obon and the spirits are all awakened and walking along a path.
The raccoon is a trickster and takes Saki along a path where she meets a witch and an ogre. She steals some magical marbles from the witch. The marbles hold magical powers that Saki uses to escape from dangerous situations.
The tengu (bird spirit) can fly, but doesn’t carry Saki. She climbs over stone walls being chased by crabs, enters a large palace where she disguises herself in a straw hooded robe. She meets a frog ruler with his slug wife who uses Saki as a servant to clean away the spirit of the Filth Licker. Saki makes a deal with the Filth Licker spirit after he returns the slug’s precious shell. The spirit bird changes size and can hide inside Saki’s straw robe to advise and assist her along her way. Saki uses her magical marbles to walk through the nightingale hall without being noticed. She finally reaches the Silver Spirit who reassures Saki that her search is almost over.
On the third night of Obon, Saki meets the final spirit. It arises from a teakettle. It is a fox. The fox takes Saki on the last leg of her journey to the Prince who can break the curse. Saki wanders through the community of spirit “objects”. She befriends an umbrella, a stringed instrument, and a piece of cloth. Since this is the last night of Obon, the night parade is drawing to a close and the threat of the curse is heightened. The tendrils of darkness and doom descend around Saki. She can literally feel herself being pulled into the spirit world by evil that threatens her. This is when Saki realizes the value of her heritage. Even when she meets the Prince and has the chance to lift her curse, she is torn between the real friendship she has made with the spirit objects and her own fate. Forced to return to her own world, Saki awakes to the realization that the rituals of Obon and her family heritage has shaped her into a strong young woman who can face challenges head on. She now knows what true friendship is and vows to stand up for herself. She discovers a true human friend at the end of the novel that can share in the secrets that Saki has experienced.
I am using this novel as a read aloud with my eighth graders. So far they are really enjoying it. I will be able to draw comparisons with this novel and A Christmas Carol which is the next novel we are reading.