Claire Youmans is an accomplished adult non-fiction and mystery writer who has also written and edited innumerable articles, engaging audiences for over 20 years. With a deep love for Japan and its culture, Claire has traveled there extensively studying the country’s culture and folklore. She worked as a creative consultant on the award-winning international feature film Journey to Mt. Fuji, produced by Sasanquafilms.
Claire has returned to the more complex world of novels, but now for a younger audience. While working on a play produced in Tokyo, The Great Grateful Jizo, Claire was so inspired by two minor characters -- Azuki, a Toki-Girl, and her brother, Shota, a Sparrow-Boy -- that she expanded their story into The Toki Girl and the Sparrow Boy. With generous doses of adventure, suspense, folklore and fantasy, Claire has brought their visually compelling story into book form.
The Toki Girl and the Sparrow Boy is the first in a series of books recounting their adventures. With further books in development, Claire often returns to Japan for more inspiration and motivation to bring that nation’s beauty and culture to life for young readers through its traditional folklore.
“Shota and Azuki’s epic journey is a great read, and it simply flies along.”
– Kirkus Reviews
Two magical children go on an adventure to determine their fate in Youmans’ (The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy, 2014) sequel to her historical fable set in post-feudal Japan.
With their parents gone, the bird-children Azuki and Shota need to find their way home, so Yuta the monk provides them refuge as they plan their travels. There are battles to consider—soldiers want to kidnap Azuki for her feathers, but she and Shota need to reach Lady Satsuki and prove they’re still alive. While hiding from enemies, Azuki discovers that their land is streaked with coal, something that foreigners have been looking for. They set off to tell Lady Satsuki this valuable news, with Shota disguised as a sparrow and Azuki disguised as young, male student of Yuta. No sooner has their journey begun than they’re attacked by creatures called the Tengu, who believe that Azuki belongs to them. Once thwarted, they swear to return with their monstrous master, a Dai-Tengu. The three travelers continue, helped along the way by a village of kind social outcasts, Shota’s Dragon Princess friend, telepathic horses, and the return of a lost fortune. It may be hard for readers to keep up with all the characters and plotlines in the beginning of this book, although things even out by the time Yuta, Azuki, and Shota reach their destination. When they finally meet with Lady Satsuki, Yuta reveals a secret that will change the bird-children’s lives. Armed with this good news, they begin their return to their homeland only to be met by the Dai-Tengu. The magic from the friends they’ve made along the way will help lead them safely home once and for all. Peppered with Japanese vocabulary and traditions, this story provides a fantastical but engaging portrait of that country. These details manage to be educational without interrupting the story’s flow. Although the previous book was grounded in Shota’s search for Azuki, it takes longer for momentum to develop in this one, as the point of conflict is always changing—soldiers, the Tengu, a nebulous yearning to find their way home. Shota and Azuki’s sibling relationship offers some moments of humor and reflects a sense of love and teasing that many real-life siblings will recognize. Ultimately, the story’s uplifting conclusion makes this historical tale memorable.
Young readers interested in Japanese traditions and history will find much to enjoy in this simple fantasy tale.
Pub Date: July 8, 2015
Page count: 200pp
Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2015
Two siblings go on an epic journey across feudal Japan in Youmans’ (Rough Justice, 1996) first book for young readers.
Shota has to find his sister, Azuki, who took off after their parents were killed by the local sheriff in a fit of greed and rage. Shota believes that she’s probably headed north to be where the crested ibis, or toki, are. He and Azuki are bird children; he’s a sparrow who can take on the form of a human boy, and she’s a toki who can appear as a girl. Years ago, their hometown’s protective spirits, the Jizo, brought them to their human parents, who had longed for children of their own and had shown the Jizo kindness and respect. But now their parents are gone, and Shota and Azuki are on their own, flying, walking, sailing and riding across the islands of Japan, relying on their wits and the gods’ protection. Shota knows that they must return to their home before the equinox or they will be declared dead by the sheriff, struck from the books and unable to live among humans any longer. As they travel, they come to appreciate their dual natures and decide that they would never want to live as just humans or just birds. Meanwhile, Japan itself struggles with a new duality in the Meiji era, as foreign influences creep into the previously closed country. Youmans pursues this theme in a parallel plot about an innocent love affair between Anko, a young Japanese woman, and Benjamin, a young American man who’s come to prospect for coal. Shota and Azuki’s epic journey is a great read, and it simply flies along. By contrast, however, Anko and Benjamin’s story plods, weighed down with exposition that may be unclear to younger readers. When the four main characters meet up at the very end, readers may find that it feels pat and rather incidental. Interestingly, however, Youmans starts every chapter with a black-and-white drawing by a different young person—all of whom have their own takes on what a bird-child might look like.
An uneven but often engaging fairy tale with two strong young characters.
Pub Date: June 24, 2014
Page count: 140pp
Publisher: american i
Review Posted Online: July 22, 2014
Claire Youmans Talks Toki-Girl and Sparrow-Boy
Too many to list!
ALL of them!
Favorite line from a book
Any one I spell accurately.
Passion in life
Writing interesting and fun stories to inspire the imagination and promote creativity; children's literacy
Unexpected skill or talent
They're all unexpected to me.
The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy: Hollywood Book Fair - Honorable Mention, 2014
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