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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Although the love comes shining through, the text often confuses in straining for patterned simplicity.

I WISH YOU MORE

A collection of parental wishes for a child.

It starts out simply enough: two children run pell-mell across an open field, one holding a high-flying kite with the line “I wish you more ups than downs.” But on subsequent pages, some of the analogous concepts are confusing or ambiguous. The line “I wish you more tippy-toes than deep” accompanies a picture of a boy happily swimming in a pool. His feet are visible, but it's not clear whether he's floating in the deep end or standing in the shallow. Then there's a picture of a boy on a beach, his pockets bulging with driftwood and colorful shells, looking frustrated that his pockets won't hold the rest of his beachcombing treasures, which lie tantalizingly before him on the sand. The line reads: “I wish you more treasures than pockets.” Most children will feel the better wish would be that he had just the right amount of pockets for his treasures. Some of the wordplay, such as “more can than knot” and “more pause than fast-forward,” will tickle older readers with their accompanying, comical illustrations. The beautifully simple pictures are a sweet, kid- and parent-appealing blend of comic-strip style and fine art; the cast of children depicted is commendably multiethnic.

Although the love comes shining through, the text often confuses in straining for patterned simplicity. (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: April 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4521-2699-9

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Chronicle Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

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A sweet, soft conversation starter and a charming gift.

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BECAUSE I HAD A TEACHER

A paean to teachers and their surrogates everywhere.

This gentle ode to a teacher’s skill at inspiring, encouraging, and being a role model is spoken, presumably, from a child’s viewpoint. However, the voice could equally be that of an adult, because who can’t look back upon teachers or other early mentors who gave of themselves and offered their pupils so much? Indeed, some of the self-aware, self-assured expressions herein seem perhaps more realistic as uttered from one who’s already grown. Alternatively, readers won’t fail to note that this small book, illustrated with gentle soy-ink drawings and featuring an adult-child bear duo engaged in various sedentary and lively pursuits, could just as easily be about human parent- (or grandparent-) child pairs: some of the softly colored illustrations depict scenarios that are more likely to occur within a home and/or other family-oriented setting. Makes sense: aren’t parents and other close family members children’s first teachers? This duality suggests that the book might be best shared one-on-one between a nostalgic adult and a child who’s developed some self-confidence, having learned a thing or two from a parent, grandparent, older relative, or classroom instructor.

A sweet, soft conversation starter and a charming gift. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: March 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-943200-08-5

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Compendium

Review Posted Online: Dec. 13, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2017

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