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Sumo Joe (and his sister Jo) picture book review

Updated: Nov 13

Sumo Joe by Mia Wenjen; illustrated by Nat Iwata

Joe is a Japanese American boy who loves Sumo wrestling, a traditional Japanese martial art. Like younger siblings tend to do, Joe’s little sister naturally wants to be into what her older brother is doing. She takes Aikido, another martial art form, but she wants to be like her brother. Good thing it turns out that Joe is a good guy -- the kind of big brother every girl would want.

I love girl-power stories where the guy doesn’t come out looking like a big jerk. Sumo Joe is such a story about girl-power and about sibling love. Through short, simple rhyming text and glossary terms at the end, this story introduces the reader to Sumo wrestling, its terms and moves.

I can relate to this book on a couple of levels. I used to be into whatever my older sister was doing. Like Sumo Joe, my big sis was kind enough and put up with me... sometimes. The secret goal was to outdo big sis, which never worked out for me, but good for little Jo that it did for her! I eventually outgrew sister-does-I-do-toos, but now I see with my kids, my younger one thinks her big sis hung the moon.

At a time when not a single girl was in the sport, I took karate lessons. I got a lot of sideways glances. In the gym with no locker rooms, the boys changed their clothing into karate gear out in the open. Thinking nothing of it, I stripped down to change, just like the boys. The teacher thought better of it and set up a curtained changing area for me. As the only girl in the book, Jo reminded me of my karate days!

I recommend this book not only to readers interested in learning about Sumo but also to young readers who enjoy a female empowerment story and sibling love, or shall we call it rivalry.

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