The first thing to know about this book is that it is a textbook, not a kanji reference book. The second thing to know is that it is not a textbook for absolute newcomers to learning Japanese; it presumes a certain degree of knowledge of elementary Japanese grammar. If you are a person seeking materials for starting to learn Japanese as an absolute beginner, this is not the book for you. If you're one of the many who want to start learning and don't yet understand that learning Japanese and learning kanji are not the same thing, this isn't the book for you either.
The book presents approximately 250 kanji in a series of 21 structured lessons, with each lesson built around some practical aspect of daily life (riding the trains, going to the supermarket, using an ATM, going to the hospital, etc). Each lesson begins with a brief explanation or introduction regarding the lesson theme, followed by the following five sections:
1. Introductory Quiz: An illustration depicting the sort of written materials one might expect to encounter in daily life, and appropriate to the lesson's theme. Accompanied by a series of questions prompting the learner to get the necessary information from the illustration.
2. Vocabulary: Vocabulary items appearing in the introductory quiz, presented in kanji/kana mix, in hiragana only, in romaji, and with English translation
3. New Characters: The new kanji presented in each lesson are shown with a multi-panel section showing the correct stroke order for writing the kanji. The readings (on-yomi and kun-yomi) are given in both kana and in romaji. Each character has a brief explanation of its etymology, often with illustrations.
4. Practice: Each lesson has one page split into two sections. In the first section the learner is asked to write the correct readings of text including kanji. In the second section the learner is asked to write the correct kanji to fill in the blanks in questions.
5. Advanced Placement Exam Practice Questions: A page of questions/tasks based upon a practical aspect of getting around in Japan and taking care of your daily business in Japan. Intended as preparation for the College Board Advanced Placement Exam.
There are one page reviews after every five lessons.
The book seems to have been designed for students who have learned Japanese in high school and who wish to take the Advanced Placement Exam in order to avoid taking freshman Japanese in university. Its themed approach based upon practical aspects of daily life in Japan would also make it useful for people already in Japan who are just starting out on learning kanji in context. The advantage of this text over many common kanji reference materials available to the learner today lies in its having selected kanji based on practical usefulness and immediate applicability. It would be a good adjunct textbook to use along with another that focuses on teaching the language but which perhaps doesn't satisfy the eagerness for getting started learning kanji displayed by many newcomers to learning Japanese.
Introducing only 250 kanji, the book is by no means a complete or thorough introduction to all the kanji one would need to be functionally literate in Japan, but it certainly would serve as a good start. The accompanying illustrations, thematically arranged structured lessons, and practice questions should make the process more user-friendly than just diving headfirst into kanji learning with a standard reference book or materials that don't do an adequate job of placing kanji usage in a real-life context.
While the text does follow the convention of indicating kun-yomi in hiragana and on-yomi in katakana, there is no mention of it that I can find anywhere in the book, much less of any but the most cursory explanation of what kun-yomi and on-yomi are or how they differ, and none at all of why there can be so many different readings, how to know when to use which reading, or any other of the countless questions that invariably come up when one starts to learn kanji. While a full and satisfying introduction to and explanation of these things would without a doubt be outside the scope of the textbook, not to address it at all strikes me as a glaring oversight. In light of this, the book might most satisfactorily be used by those in a classroom setting or at least by those with access to someone who can answer these inevitable questions for them. The back cover of the book informs us that "The Kanji Text Research Group and the University of Tokyo has spent more than two decades developing the most effective methods of teaching kanji to foreign learners of Japanese." I find it hard to imagine that in over two decades a group of experts couldn't come up with a brief explanation that would satisfactorily address the issue without simultaneously overloading the new learner with unnecessary information.
Answer keys for all questions are included, as are useful appendices and a full vocabulary index of all vocabulary introduced in the lessons.