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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ABIYOYO RETURNS

The seemingly ageless Seeger brings back his renowned giant for another go in a tuneful tale that, like the art, is a bit sketchy, but chockful of worthy messages. Faced with yearly floods and droughts since they’ve cut down all their trees, the townsfolk decide to build a dam—but the project is stymied by a boulder that is too huge to move. Call on Abiyoyo, suggests the granddaughter of the man with the magic wand, then just “Zoop Zoop” him away again. But the rock that Abiyoyo obligingly flings aside smashes the wand. How to avoid Abiyoyo’s destruction now? Sing the monster to sleep, then make it a peaceful, tree-planting member of the community, of course. Seeger sums it up in a postscript: “every community must learn to manage its giants.” Hays, who illustrated the original (1986), creates colorful, if unfinished-looking, scenes featuring a notably multicultural human cast and a towering Cubist fantasy of a giant. The song, based on a Xhosa lullaby, still has that hard-to-resist sing-along potential, and the themes of waging peace, collective action, and the benefits of sound ecological practices are presented in ways that children will both appreciate and enjoy. (Picture book. 5-9)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-689-83271-0

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2001

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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. 14, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2017

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