The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy

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

ISBN: 978-0990323402

Page Count: 140

Publisher: american i

Review Posted Online: July 22, 2014

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ON THE NIGHT YOU WERE BORN

A beautiful tribute to the uniqueness of every child: “On the night you were born, the moon smiled with such wonder that the stars peeked in to see you and the night wind whispered, ‘Life will never be the same.’ ” The wind and the rain whispered the new babe’s name, causing animals all over the world to rejoice. And if ever that child thinks that he is unloved, all he need do is listen to the wind and look around at nature—they will remind him of just how special and loved he is. New parents and grandparents will get teary as they celebrate with the author the wonder and marvel that is their newborn baby, while young listeners will be thrilled at being the center of creation’s attention. Neither group will notice the uneven rhyme scheme employed in the text or the failure of the author to carry through in encouraging parent and child to interact. The focus will be on the paint-and-collage illustrations, rich in color and incorporating words from the text. Perfect for lap sharing with a beloved little one. (Picture book. 3-8)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-9765761-0-4

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Darling Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2005

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  • SPONSORED PLACEMENT

A killer thriller.

THREE HOURS IN PARIS

Black takes time out from chronicling the neighborhood-themed exploits of half-French detective Aimée Leduc to introduce a heroine as American as apple pie.

Kate Rees never expected to see Paris again, especially not under these circumstances. Born and bred in rural Oregon, she earned a scholarship to the Sorbonne, where she met Dafydd, a handsome Welshman who stole her heart. The start of World War II finds the couple stationed in the Orkney Islands, where Kate impresses Alfred Stepney of the War Department with the rifle skills she developed helping her dad and five brothers protect the family’s cattle. After unimaginable tragedy strikes, Stepney recruits Kate for a mission that will allow her to channel her newly ignited rage against the Germans who’ve just invaded France. She’s parachuted into the countryside, where her fluent French should help her blend in. Landing in a field, she hops a milk train to Paris, where she plans to shoot Adolf Hitler as he stands on the steps of Sacre-Coeur. Instead, she kills his admiral and has to flee through the streets of Paris, struggling to hook up with the rescuers who are supposed to extract her. Meanwhile, Gunter Hoffman, a career policeman in a wartime assignment with the Reichssicherheitsdienst security forces, is charged with finding the assassin who dared attempt to kill the Führer. It’s hard to see how it can end well for both the cop and the cowgirl. The heroine’s flight is too episodic to capitalize on Black’s skill at character development, but she’s great at raising readers’ blood pressure.

A killer thriller.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 360

Publisher: Soho Crime

Review Posted Online: May 4, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020

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THE LORAX

The greening of Dr. Seuss, in an ecology fable with an obvious message but a savingly silly style. In the desolate land of the Lifted Lorax, an aged creature called the Once-ler tells a young visitor how he arrived long ago in the then glorious country and began manufacturing anomalous objects called Thneeds from "the bright-colored tufts of the Truffula Trees." Despite protests from the Lorax, a native "who speaks for the trees," he continues to chop down Truffulas until he drives away the Brown Bar-ba-loots who had fed on the Tuffula fruit, the Swomee-Swans who can't sing a note for the smogulous smoke, and the Humming-Fish who had hummed in the pond now glumped up with Gluppity-Glupp. As for the Once-let, "1 went right on biggering, selling more Thneeds./ And I biggered my money, which everyone needs" — until the last Truffula falls. But one seed is left, and the Once-let hands it to his listener, with a message from the Lorax: "UNLESS someone like you/ cares a whole awful lot,/ nothing is going to get better./ It's not." The spontaneous madness of the old Dr. Seuss is absent here, but so is the boredom he often induced (in parents, anyway) with one ridiculous invention after another. And if the Once-let doesn't match the Grinch for sheer irresistible cussedness, he is stealing a lot more than Christmas and his story just might induce a generation of six-year-olds to care a whole lot.

Pub Date: Aug. 12, 1971

ISBN: 0394823370

Page Count: 72

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Oct. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1971

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