Much like its protagonist, this novel is endearing, sincere and slightly gawky. American Tobias Blackwood has come to Japan...




Johnston’s debut novel is travel narrative, fantasy and coming-of-age saga woven with magic, nobility of spirit and idealized—almost courtly—love.

Much like its protagonist, this novel is endearing, sincere and slightly gawky. American Tobias Blackwood has come to Japan with his new friend John Tell to teach English as part of the Society of English Learners. His adventure gets off to a rocky start, however, when he finds himself halfway up a mountain, bloody and without his glasses, victim of his own clumsiness. His mishaps, however, do have the net positive result of attracting the attention of a mysterious woman named Matsuri. She becomes a friend and helps Tobias as he faces challenges both natural (teaching at a new school in a new country) and supernatural (fending off hungry demons and dealing with drunken tanuki: “They look like raccoons, but they resemble a badger or wild dog more than a raccoon—kind of cute but really shifty”). Tobias’ biggest challenge, though, is neither demon, tanuki nor kitsune; it’s his feelings for Michiko Yamasaki, his translator and classroom aide. Luckily, Tobias has his friends—and the kind support of his wise hosts, Jomei and Aoki Yoshida—to help him navigate all the unexpected experiences Japan has to offer him. In fact, the character relationships are one of the greatest strengths of this story, the other being the clear love of Japan and the attention to cultural detail woven throughout. Many lines of dialogue are even written in Romanized Japanese—with footnotes. Unfortunately, this can distract from the flow of the story, as readers have to refer to the bottoms of the pages, often several times on a single page, to follow the narrative. The dialogue also has a heightened, old-fashioned feel, which can sometimes read as stilted: “Enough talk of work. Tobias-san, would you like to start us off on the karaoke?” Nevertheless, that doesn’t stop characters from being engaging. Tobias’ adventures are fairly straightforward, although the way they tend to alternate between real-world and supernatural problems can make the narrative feel a bit like a car stuck between two gears.

Pub Date: April 12, 2012

ISBN: 978-1499359688

Page Count: 184

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2014

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More gift book than storybook, this is a meaningful addition to nursery bookshelves


A young child explores the unlimited potential inherent in all humans.

“Have you ever wondered why you are here?” asks the second-person narration. There is no one like you. Maybe you’re here to make a difference with your uniqueness; maybe you will speak for those who can’t or use your gifts to shine a light into the darkness. The no-frills, unrhymed narrative encourages readers to follow their hearts and tap into their limitless potential to be anything and do anything. The precisely inked and colored artwork plays with perspective from the first double-page spread, in which the child contemplates a mountain (or maybe an iceberg) in their hands. Later, they stand on a ladder to place white spots on tall, red mushrooms. The oversized flora and fauna seem to symbolize the presumptively insurmountable, reinforcing the book’s message that anything is possible. This quiet read, with its sophisticated central question, encourages children to reach for their untapped potential while reminding them it won’t be easy—they will make messes and mistakes—but the magic within can help overcome falls and failures. It’s unlikely that members of the intended audience have begun to wonder about their life’s purpose, but this life-affirming mood piece has honorable intentions. The child, accompanied by an adorable piglet and sporting overalls and a bird-beaked cap made of leaves, presents white.

More gift book than storybook, this is a meaningful addition to nursery bookshelves . (Picture book. 2-8)

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-946873-75-0

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Compendium

Review Posted Online: May 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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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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