07 June 2009

Samurai Kids

Book 1: White Crane
Book 2: Owl Ninja

by Sandy Fussell. Illustrated by Rhian Nest James

Walker Books. Australian, Junior, Young Adult. Paperback rrp $14.95 each

Guest Reviewer Jo Burnell

Niya is one of five Samurai Warrior students at the Cockroach Ryu. It is a school with a difference. The sensei (teacher) is so old that many comment, ‘I thought he died’, at the mention of his name. The students are unique too. Each is missing something: an arm, a leg, sight, the will to fight. Kyoko, the only girl, has six fingers and toes. Each student was rejected by other Samurai Schools, but Sensei insists, ‘A cracked bowl can hold water. There is nothing wrong with the bowl. It just needs to be held properly.’ He sets about teaching each of them how to excel. ‘More practice, little Cockroaches’ echoes through the pages.

In White Crane, the students prepare for the Annual Samurai Training Games. Cockroach Ryu came last the previous year. It’s hard not to cringe at the prospect of more defeat. The students journey alone through a mountain shortcut and face seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Will the kids survive darkness and danger in the underground tunnel? The wrong decision could cost lives.

Things are different in many ways this year at the Games. The students’ perception has deepened. Sensei’s words sink in. Things are never as they seem and there is more than one way to succeed. Some students cheat in the Games. Others are bullies, but there are also friends to be made. Sensei demonstrates the truth of his words, ‘A true Samurai doesn’t need a sword’. Literally.

Owl Ninja picks up where The White Crane finishes, but in very different circumstances. Sensei and his Cockroaches hurry in their bid to stop a war. If they fail, many will die. Along the way, there are lessons to learn and always ‘more practice’. However, a shadow darkens the path. At their last meeting, the Emperor wanted to chop off Sensei’s head. Familiar foes also race to the same destination with opposite intentions. How can anyone want war?

Throughout the Samurai Kids Series, several themes recur. More practice at fighting and awareness is essential despite the fact that a true Samurai doesn’t need a sword. The students are constantly challenged to think laterally and find a way around apparent obstacles, rather than being defeated by them. The bully is not always as strong as he seems.

A daily dose of humour sustains the little Cockroaches. This diet gives deeper messages zing. Although the intended audience is Upper Primary, I know of at least one Secondary College using Samurai Kids in their English Curriculum. As an adult, I found the stories irresistible.

Just as things are never as they seem, the reader can travel different paths within these books. The surface ride is fun and full of action, while Sensei’s words point to a deeper level of understanding and a rockier path. Either way, you are in for a delightful read, regardless of your age.


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