My First Picture Book Submission: Sumo Joe! #AmWriting

My First Picture Book Submission: Sumo Joe! #AmWriting

I was standing in line of a dive Brazilian buffet restaurant with my husband for lunch. The food is inexpensive and delicious and we joke that this would be like visiting our grandmothers, if they lived nearby and were Brazilian.

Panela De Barro Restaurant

There was a line at the meat counter where it’s sliced off the skewers for you. A contractor was in front of me. He was a big guy, but not immense. All of a sudden, the image of a sumo popped into my head. By the time, I sat down with my food, I had all kinds of rhymes about Sumo Joe. I quickly typed them into my phone and then sat down to eat.

Panela De Barro Restaurant

Nothing much happened for a few weeks. Then one day, I had to go into work for a meeting and needed to find someone about a project I was working on.

Aquent OfficeMy office is a “hoteling” system so no one has assigned desks. Instead, everyone gets with a storage locker and a file folder drawer to store their stuff (which encourages electronic files), and can sit any where they want all day in a series of “neighborhoods.” Thus, no one really has stuff on their desk; without an assigned desk, there’s very little family photos or pencil holders on the workspace.

So… imagine my surprise to run into this:

My First Picture Book Submission: Sumo Joe!

It’s a sumo squeeze ball! I told the person with the sumo squeeze ball that I had an idea for a picture book and started reciting my random sumo rhyming lines. She laughed and said it sounded fun.

I sat down in earnest with my phone notes, and my picture book started to take shape. Also, strangely, I was seeing sumo wrestlers everywhere. What it a sign?

My First Picture Book Submission: Sumo Joe!

I had signed up for a community education class on children’s book writing and wrote Sumo Joe for this class. After a few rounds of critique from my classmates and teacher, I decided, on a whim, to enter the Lee and Low Publishing New Voices Competition. I didn’t win, but they invited me to receive their editorial feedback and resubmit.

Dear Mia,

My name is Kandace and I am the editorial assistant at Lee & Low Books. Thank you again for sharing your manuscript, SUMO JOE, with us through our New Voices Award; it was one of our favorite submissions! 
I appreciate you sending the manuscript and giving me an opportunity to look it over again. Once I’ve gathered my editorial thoughts on your story I will send them to you and we can discuss them.
Thank you for your time!
PickyKidPix had given me specific areas to work on my book and I thought her feedback was spot on, so I was shocked that the editorial changes were simply to write an Author’s Note back matter page.

Good afternoon Mia,

Thank you for your patience as I revisited your manuscript, SUMO JOE. As I discuss it further with my editorial team, now would be a great time for you to expand the story’s back matter with an Author’s Note.

Many of our titles include back matter material that provides further information about the subject of the story. The Glossary of Terms you included with SUMO JOE is a strong start. I would like to expand this back matter to include an Author’s Note. Your Author’s Note is a place for you to discuss themes or topics related to your story that the text does not explore. Some topics you could discuss include: your inspiration for the story, the practice of sumo wrestling by kids, and the participation of female athletes in sumo wrestling. Please keep in mind that SUMO JOE could be young readers’ introduction to the sport of sumo wrestling, so consider: what would you want them to take away from this reading experience?

Please let me know if you are interested in developing your manuscript further with an Author’s Note. I am happy to address any questions or concerns you may have as you work on it.

Thank you,

I’m in the process of editing my Back Matter page and resubmitting to Lee and Low. Here’s my 4th draft:

Sumo Joe Back Matter

Sumo comes from the ancient Japanese religion, Shinto, which dates back to the eighth century. Described as “the way of the gods,” Shinto centers around the belief in the sacred power, kami, of animate and inanimate things. Kami are benevolent spiritual elements that exist in nature and ones’ ancestors, and bring good luck if treated respectfully. The Shinto religion makes use of rituals that enable humans to communicate with kami. These rituals include sumo competitions, as well as music, poetry, dance, and drama performances.

While sumo began as a Shinto ritual, it changed over time encompassing both an art and a sport. In the beginning, sumo matches were held at Shinto shrines in dedication of the gods in hopes of a good harvest. Over the centuries, sumo shifted from a religious ritual to an important military art. When the civil wars of Japan ended in 1603, sumo shifted again to a formalized sport for the benefit of the gods. Today sumo tournaments raise money for the construction and repair of Shinto temples and shrines.

While there were instances during the long evolution of sumo that included women competing in the ring, sumo has always traditionally been considered a male sport. Women are not allowed to touch the dohyo (ring) once it has been purified. In earlier times, women were not even allowed to watch sumo matches!

The rules of sumo are simple: two sumo wrestlers compete in a fifteen foot round ring (dohyo). Using any of seventy sumo techniques that include pushing, shoving, slapping, throwing, tripping or grappling, the sumo wrestler that knocks his opponent down or out of the ring wins.

While sumo wrestlers are known for their great size, there are no weight divisions. Wrestlers can weigh more than five hundred pounds, though there is a minimum weight of 165 pounds and a height requirement of at least five feet, six inches. And while size is an advantage in sumo, there are successful champions who weigh much less than their opponents, as strategy, agility, grappling skill, and quickness all contribute to a sumo wrestler’s success.

There are part-time training opportunities at sumo schools (heyas) for young boys, but pursuing a career as a sumo wrestler is a life choice. Sumo hopefuls join a heya and move in, full time, starting as young as fifteen years of age. The sumo stable becomes the aspirant’s new home; he only moves out when he reaches a certain level of success or quits.

The training schedule beings early at around 5:30 in the morning, when the lowest ranked sumo wrestlers practice first. Around 8:00 am, higher ranked sumo wrestlers and the sumo coach join the practice. The curriculum also includes classroom time learning about the history of sumo, sports medicine, poetry, and calligraphy. After this period of study, it’s time for lunch, the first meal of the day. Chankonabe, a one pot stew, is the traditional lunch, consumed with many bowls of rice and beer. Lunch is followed by a rest period. This schedule of training, a huge lunch, and rest period helps sumo wrestlers gain weight.

Training for sumo include exercises designed to build strength and increase flexibility. Sumo wrestlers practice shiko — the iconic leg stomping exercise — hundreds of times a day. Shiko is also used during the rituals in tournaments. Teppo is a pushing exercise for the arms and shoulders that is done using a wooden pole in which the sumo wrestler strikes the pole repeatedly with his palms. Practice matches, aerobic exercises and weight training are part of the regimen. Flexibility is also important: sumo wrestlers can do full side splits while resting their heads on the ground!

The competition structure for sumo matches is built to specific requirements. The sumo platform is raised two feet off the ground and made up of a square containing the circular dohyo in the center. The dohyo is constructed using special dirt from the Chiba prefecture. The ring is marked off by a few inches of raised material, made of straw. Outside the ring is a thin layer of sand, used to help identify if a wrestler has lost by touching the outside of the ring.  A wooden roof covers the dohyo; the design significant of Shinto shrines. The roof has tassels draping from each corner, symbolizing the cardinal directions.

Sumo wrestlers are famous for their competition uniform. In the ring, they wear a thick loincloth waist belt called a mawashi made of thirty feet of cloth passed between the legs and wrapped around the waist.  The mawashi is an important element of sumo. If it falls of, which is rate, the wrestler automatically loses. Grapping an opponent’s mawashi is also a strategy to throw him out of the ring. The sumo wrestlers’ hairstyle is also iconic. Their hair is styled in a topknot, with higher ranking sumo wrestlers’ hair styled  elaborately to resemble a ginko leaf.

Sumo matches are conducted by a referee who stays in the ring, as well as five judges who sit outside the ring. The referee also conducts the purification ceremony to cleanse the ring that includes salt and sake offerings to the gods. Each wrestler also performs pre-bout purification rituals that include the shiko exercise, believed to drive evil spirits from the ring. Sumo wrestlers also throw a handful of salt to cleanse the ring each time they enter it.

Once the rituals are completed, the match can begin. The sumo wrestlers start from a crouching position, facing each other from marked spots. When the referee signals the start of a match, they charge at each other with explosive power. Most matches are over in a matter of seconds, though some matches can last as long as a couple of minutes.

Six grand sumo tournaments held in Japan each year. Each tournament lasts fifteen days, with each sumo wrestler competing daily. After the tournament, sumo wrestlers move up or down in their ranking level depending on their win/loss record.

There are four levels that a young sumo wrestler must work his way up, in an up or out system that rewards success with high wages including gifts from patrons. An additional two levels with limited spots are reserved for the most successful sumo wrestlers, and is considered “hall of fame” status. Sumo wrestlers who make the highest level, Yokozuna or Grand Champion, must retire if they lose a match.

While sumo is considered a distinct Japanese sport, foreigners have joined the sport with much success. The most famous is Akebono Tarō from Hawaii. He weighed in at 550 pounds, and was the first non-Japanese-born wrestler to reach Yokozuna status. Konishiki, also from Hawaii, was the largest Sumo wrestler in history, weighing in at 650 pounds! He was the first non-Japanese-born wrestler to reach ōzeki, the second-highest rank in the sport.

While sumo is an ancient sport with religious roots, it continues to be a popular sport in Japan. As a participant, sport fan, or consumer of sumo’s famous Chankonabe stew, sumo is a wonderful way to experience Japanese culture!



Gutman, Bill. Sumo Wrestling. Minneapolis: Capstone Press, 1995.

Hall, Mina. The Big Book of Sumo. Berkeley: Stone Bridge Press, 1997.

Long, Walter. Sumo: A Pocket Guide. Rutland: Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1989.


My picture book is a rhyming story about a boy learning sumo. His younger sister sneaks into the training facility and challenges him to a match. Since sumo is a “boy-only sport,” she uses aikido for a surprise ending.

I’ll keep you posted on what happens to my manuscript!

p.s. Editorial feedback on my Back Matters page welcome!

My First Picture Book Submission: Sumo Joe! #AmWriting

By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom


  1. Dee

    This is so exciting, Mia! I think it would be just amazing if, after blogging about children’s books for years, you published a children’s book! I can’t wait to hear more!

  2. This is wonderful, Mia!! Congratulations! I smell a PB deal!!!

  3. Sarah

    So exciting!! Can’t wait to read your book one day, hopefully soon!

  4. Very informative website this helps us a lot so thanks for sharing this post with us.

  5. This is so exciting, Mia! I hope to follow in your footsteps someday (hopefully sooner rather than later).
    maryanne recently posted…Spring and Easter Crafts: Eraser Stamped BunniesMy Profile

  6. Congrats, Mia! Sounds great, just wanted to bring two typos to your attention, if I may… In the paragraph that talks about the uniform, this sentence “….if it falls OFF, which is RARE….”
    Best of luck with this project!

  7. Mia, I am so happy for you with your great feedback from Lee and Low! I found your authors note very interesting. I had not known some of the information about sumo wrestling! Did you know anyone who loved sumo ? I wish you much luck and look forward to hearing​ more as you are on your path to publication😊

    • Thanks so much Kathleen! I have only ever watched Sumo on TV, a little on cable when it comes up randomly and when I was in Japan, I saw it on the company shuttle bus and during lunch when employees relax and watch TV. I didn’t know too much about it except that I knew it was associated with a Japanese religion so it was a fun journey to learn more and write a story around it. There is sumo in the United States, though not in my area.
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…The Nian Monster Chinese New Year Author EventMy Profile

  8. This is wonderful and exciting, Mia! I will have to stay tuned.

  9. This is so exciting Mia! I have everything crossed foe you :o)

Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge