Review: Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword by Henry Lien

Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword by Henry Lien

Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword by Henry Lien (9781250165695)

Peasprout and her brother, Cricket, are sent from the country of Shin to the glorious city of Pearl to attend the Pearl Famous Academy of Skate and Sword. They are the first students from Shin to attend the school that teaches wu liu, a combinations of martial arts and figure skating. In Pearl, the floors and buildings are all built of pearl, a material that can be skated on. Peasprout has won many Shin awards for wu liu and is confident that she can become top of her class. Still, she has a lot to learn, including many of the more modern Pearl wu liu combinations. Peasprout soon gets the attention of the class bully and another girl who remains always apart and distant, even from her own twin brother. As the competition heats up, a vandal starts to attack the buildings of pearl on the campus and Peasprout as an outsider is the number one suspect!

I cannot stress enough how utterly captivating this children’s book is. It is like reading an anime in novel form or a manga in text. It has the same humor as those other art forms, combining wry laughs with epic battles and races. The pace of the book is brisk, the action scenes almost breathtakingly fast. Throughout there is a strong sense of place and one falls in love with Pearl and the Academy as much as with the characters.

And what characters they are! There is the confident Peasprout who rarely doubts that she is doing anything wrong, but when she does she grows and learns in an honest and organic way. Cricket is small and quiet but also gifted in a different way than his sister. The twin siblings offer Peasprout a chance at first love but also a great tug of rivalry and friendship. And everyone needs a good villain to round it all out.

A bright and unique novel that is pure joy to read. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Edelweiss and Henry Holt & Company.

3 Playful Picture Books

These three picture books are all about the joy and power of play.

Another Way to Climb a Tree by Liz Garton Scanlon

Another Way to Climb a Tree by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Hadley Hooper (9781626723528)

Lulu loves to climb trees. She saves cats, retrieves kites and climbs trees that others won’t. When Lulu gets sick though, she can’t climb trees for awhile. She misses the trees and the trees and birds miss her too. As Lulu looks out of her window, only the sun is climbing the tree. But then she notices the tree’s shadow on her bedroom wall and Lulu realizes that she can still pretend to be high in the branches. Scanlon’s writing is rich and simple at the same time. She speaks about the joy of climbing trees and then with poignancy shows how much Lulu misses being outside and being up in tree branches. The illustrations by Hooper are done with printmaking and have a traditional and organic feel that adds to the connection with nature felt on the pages. Get this into the hands of children with skinned knees and sunburned noses. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)

The Five Forms by Barbara McClintock.jpg

The Five Forms by Barbara McClintock (9781626722163)

When a girl discovers a book of martial arts forms, she ignores the warming in the book that says that “unexpected results” can happen if anyone other than a master attempts them. When the girl tries the crane form, a large crane appears in her room. The crane is quite problematic and destructive, so she quickly moves on to leopard form. As the two animals fight, she adds another and another with a snake and dragon joining the battle. Finally, she reaches the last form to turn things back to normal. She tidies up the mess of the house just before her mother comes in with tickets to the zoo. Perhaps it’s time for someone else to read that book! McClintock’s text is very simple here, with much of the action of the book happening in the images. The book moves from straight picture book to comic frames and back again with alacrity and in a way that flows naturally from form to form. The illustrations are filled with huge animals, messes and activity. This is a fun look at martial arts with a dash of magic. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Review copy provided by Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers.)

Fort-Building Time by Megan Wagner Lloyd

Fort-Building Time by Megan Wagner Lloyd, illustrated by Abigail Halpin (9780399556562)

Celebrate the seasons through play in this picture book that has different forts built by kids throughout the year. Winter starts the book with an ice and snow fort made merry with pine boughs for seating, berries and branches for decorations. Spring has a quiet fort filled with books to read, a cozy blanket hung between trees. Summer takes the fort to the beach with driftwood, towels, starfish and snacks. The fall fort is up in the changing trees with leaves falling all around. But sometimes forts go awry too! The only solution is a bigger, better fort next time. The text of this picture book is poetic and celebratory of each of the seasons with each season clearly depicted and then the fort shown in the illustrations. The images are filled with diverse children playing together. The fine-lined images are a mix of watercolor, colored pencil and digital that create a rich, warm setting. Have plenty of blankets, boxes and pillows around because little listeners will want to immediately build their own forts. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (E-galley provided by Edelweiss and Alfred A. Knopf.)

Review: Ninja Baby by David Zeltser

Ninja Baby by David Zeltser

Ninja Baby by David Zeltser, illustrated by Diane Goode

Released November 3, 2015

Right when she was born, Nina was a ninja baby. The doctor slapped her bottom to make sure she was breathing and Nina knocked him over with a ninja kick. Nina was immediately independent, working on her ninja skills even when taking a bath or having her diaper changed. But then everything changes when her parents bring home a new baby, a Kung Fu Master. He approaches everything differently, steadily taking over her parents’ attention and time, pulling them all under his power, and doing it all with a cute gurgle. There’s a lot a ninja can learn from a kung fu master and a lot a kung fu master can learn about stealth and attacks. Soon the children are working together to build their skills, so their parents had better watch out!

Zeltser embraces his ninja-themed picture book and doesn’t slow down. The ninja theme carries through the entire book, with baby Nina escaping her crib and doing sneak attacks. The humor of the book is dynamic and clever, offering a bright mix of ninja references and normal childhood experiences. But make no mistake, Nina is a true ninja, just as her little brother is a true kung fu master. It is this additional element that makes the book really work. Nina is stealthy and fast while her little brother takes on a completely different type of martial arts energy. The combination is pure delight, especially as they begin to learn from one another.

The illustrations by Goode are wry and cheery. They have a loose line about them that makes them very friendly. The images tell the complete story, making sure that readers know that Nina really is a little ninja and that she is truly gifted at stealth. The blissful new brother is also wonderfully depicted as a contrast to Nina.

A unique take on a new sibling book, this one will sneak up and steal your heart. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books

Review: Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny by John Himmelman

tales of bunjitsu bunny

Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny by John Himmelman

Isabel is the best at Bunjitsu in her school.  They call her Bunjitsu Bunny, but she knows to never use her martial arts skills to hurt anyone, unless she has to.  This easy reader features a series of short stories about her Buntjitsu skills and how she uses them throughout the day.  Isabel figures out before anyone else in her class how to get into the school when the door is locked.  She outwits pirates who want to steal from her.  She races a tortoise in a fresh take on the Tortoise and the Hare story.  In one story after the other, Isabel shows her poise, her intelligence and her sense of honor. 

This book for the early chapter book reader will appeal on many fronts.  First of course is the martial arts aspect, though those looking for flying fists and fighting will find something very different here.  Inside the covers is a unique mix of Eastern philosophy and problem solving that is presented at a level that children will understand. 

Himmelman’s illustrations offer just the right amount of break for young readers, so that they will not be put off by the amount of text.  The fonts are equally welcoming with their large size.  The illustrations are done in black, white and red.  They are welcoming and cartoony, created often with just a few lines that carry plenty of action and humor.

A unique and fascinating chapter book for new readers, this is a wonderful mix of girl power, martial arts and restraint.  Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt and Co.

Review: Crouching Tiger by Ying Chang Compestine

crouching tiger

Crouching Tiger by Ying Chang Compestine, illustrated by Yan Nascimbene

Vinson is fascinated when his grandfather arrives from China and practices tai chi in the backyard.  When Vinson finds out it’s a martial art, he thinks it might be like kung fu but soon learns it is not.  His grandfather begins to teach him the basic movements of tai chi but it is slow and requires a lot of patience.  When Vinson is offered a place in the Chinese New Year parade, he’s not sure he wants to even participate.  However, when he and his grandfather get to China Town, he discovers that his grandfather has been saying wonderful things about him and that everyone is very pleased to meet him.  Even more importantly, the respect everyone shows his gentle, quiet grandfather changes his view of martial arts and the man himself.

This book is perfect for Chinese New Year, since that holiday is celebrated in the story.  The growth of the main character is well developed, especially for a picture book.  The quiet grace of tai chi is shown throughout the book, including the overall tone of the story itself. 

The illustrations also reflect that quiet simplicity with their expanses of watercolor and fine lines.  The illustrations are modern-feeling and capture the excitement of the New Year and the movement of martial arts with great energy. 

This winning title is a dynamic but also introspective look at the Chinese New Year and tai chi.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy. 

Also reviewed by BookDragon.