Young readers interested in Japanese traditions and history will find much to enjoy in this simple fantasy tale.

The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy

BOOK 2: CHASING DREAMS

From the The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy series

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

ISBN: 978-1-5143-8070-3

Page Count: 200

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2015

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DUST FROM OLD BONES

Far more engaging for its history than its story, this novel in the form of a diary never catches fire. The diary is 13-year-old Simone’s, writing from April to July 1838 in New Orleans. Simone and her extended family are “gens de couleur libre”—free people of color—of African and European parentage. Simone is perfecting her English, since French is her usual language; readers glimpse her pampered but insecure existence through her adolescent habits and desires. She loves her beautiful cousin Claire-Marie, as creamy-skinned as her father, a Creole aristocrat who also has a legal wife and children. Simone is fascinated by the slave Azura’s voudou practice, by her father’s stone carving, and most especially by her Tante Madelon, who sweeps in from Paris to visit Simone’s dying grandfather. It may be a weakness of the diary format that too many plot strands are told rather than shown: sibling rivalry among Simone’s mother and aunts; Tante Madelon betraying one niece while assisting another; Claire-Marie’s father abandoning her family with no support; Grandfather’s death bound with some dark family history; Simone’s tentative grasp of the horrors of slavery and her decision to aid Azura’s daughters. The novel is flawed by wispy characterizations and Simone’s whiny voice, but the preface and afterword tell of a fascinating and little-known piece of American history that may draw readers in. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 1999

ISBN: 0-688-16202-9

Page Count: 155

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1999

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A BIG CHEESE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE

THE TRUE TALE OF A TREMENDOUS CHEDDAR

The author and illustrator bring to life an incident right out of history in this droll picture book enhanced by lively, color- washed pen-and-ink drawings. In Cheshire, Massachusetts, the home of mouth-watering cheese, the local residents grumble that President Jefferson is serving cheese from Norton, Connecticut, at the White House. “I have an idea,” says Elder John Leland to the assembled town folk, “If each of you will give one day’s milking from each of your many cows, we can put our curds together and create a whopping big cheddar.” Although some people scoff, the farmers bring load after load of milk—from 934 cows—to town and they set about making an enormous cheese. There are problems along the way, but eventually the giant cheese is dragged to a barn to age. At last it is perfect, and Mr. Leland and friends start the long haul to the East Room of White House. In a foreword, the author explains the truth and fiction in the tale, e.g., that the presidential residence wasn’t called the White House until about 1809. A humorous tale with a wide range of appeal and uses in and out of the classroom. (Picture book. 8-10)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-7894-2573-4

Page Count: 30

Publisher: DK Publishing

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1999

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