Aspiring “karate kid” Maya leads readers through a typical Shotokan class.
The story starts with the day, as Maya rises “bright and early” to go to Saturday-morning karate class. A series of comics-style panels details preparations for the class, done with Dad’s help: donning gi and belt, then walking to class, stuffed tiger in tow. A class of diverse children (Maya is white), all of varying ranks, are greeted by a sensei, a beige-skinned woman who bears an uncanny resemblance to the biracial, British author/illustrator. The breakdown of the class covers all of the bases—bowing in, warming up, practicing basics (blocks, here), running kata (sequences of movements that represent a choreographed fight), and ending mokuso (meditation)—swiftly, devoting only one or two double-page spreads to each segment. Several essential segments of a typical karate class in the U.S., including the beginning mokuso and the ending bows, are missing; Sterling does, however, illustrate the multiple levels within the technique segments, as students move from demonstrating the techniques in the air to practicing them with one another. The delicate cartoons are dynamic and lively, doing much to enhance text that feels a bit lifeless at times. The spreads proclaiming “Look, I’m a karate kid! // We all are!” and showing a collective kiai (shout to release energy) and jumping kick, seems a bit forced, although the ending is, admittedly, empowering.
Enthusiastic—but not quite a winning strike. (Picture book. 3-7)