Although Kira-Kira is Cynthia Kadohata's first novel for young readers, the issues she raises and her narrative style bear many similarities to her previously published works of adult fiction, especially The Floating World. Critics often read her works in the context of Asian American literature published in the United States since the 1990s, especially in reference to gender, nationality, and identity. Kadohata's first novel, The Floating World (1989), is a kind of road drama featuring a Japanese American family's attempt to find a place of their own. Like Kira-Kira, The Floating World is set in the 1950s and narrated by a Japanese American girl, who recounts her family's experiences while traveling through the United States in search of good jobs and a home. While they are always included within the Asian American canon, other critics have read Kadohata's works as postmodern texts because of their emphasis on how gender affects society. Critics note that Kadohata utilizes mother-daughter relationships to emphasize changing views on womanhood in the Asian American community, like other Asian American writers such as Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, Maxine Hong Kingston, Amy Tan, and R. A. Sasaki.
Critics often cite Kadohata's approachable writing style and characterization as an important reason for the uniform critical and popular success of Kira-Kira A review in The Christian Century called Kadohata's writing "extraordinary." In School Library Journal, Ashley Larsen notes, "All of the characters are believable and well developed, especially Katie…. Girls will relate to and empathize with the appealing protagonist." Hazel Rochman of Booklist includes Kira-Kira among her top ten historical novels for children and young adults, citing its "plain, beautiful prose." Winner of the 2005 John Newbery Medal for outstanding writing, Kira-Kira was praised by Award Committee Chair Susan Faust in Kadohata, Henkes win Newbery, Caldecott Medals" as "a narrative that radiates hope from the inside out."