White Crane (Samurai Kids Series #1)

White Crane (Samurai Kids Series #1)

4.6 8
by Sandy Fussell
     
 

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Niya Moto is the only one-legged Samurai kid in Japan, famous for falling flat on his face in the dirt. The one school that will accept him is the Cockroach Ryu, led by the legendary sensei Ki-Yaga. He may be an old man overly fond of naps, but Ki-Yaga is also known for taking in kids that the world has judged harshly: an albino girl with extra fingers and toes, a… See more details below

Overview

Niya Moto is the only one-legged Samurai kid in Japan, famous for falling flat on his face in the dirt. The one school that will accept him is the Cockroach Ryu, led by the legendary sensei Ki-Yaga. He may be an old man overly fond of naps, but Ki-Yaga is also known for taking in kids that the world has judged harshly: an albino girl with extra fingers and toes, a boy who is blind, a big kid whose past makes his loath to fight. A warrior in his time, Ki-Yaga demands excellence in everything from sword-fighting to poetry. But can the rag-tag Cockroaches make the treacherous journey to the Samurai Trainee Games, never mind take on the all-conquering Dragons? In a fast-moving, action-filled tale that draws on true details of feudal Japan, Niya finds there's no fear they can't face as long as they stick together - for their friendship is more powerful than a samurai sword.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
First in a martial arts series written in chapter-long vignettes, Fussell's debut is infused with authentic emotion and an agile plot. Niya, a 14-year-old, one-legged boy with a vivid imagination, goes to study with the Cockroach Ryu in the Tateyama Mountains of Japan, led by ancient and mysterious sensei Ki-Yaga, who speaks using proverbs and encourages his disciples to embrace their spirit animals. "My spirit totem flew into my heart. When I look into the mirror, I don't see my reflection; I see the White Crane. If I am afraid, it crouches with me and I'm not alone," says Niya. There he meets Mikko, who has one arm; Yoshi, who is strong and large, but refuses to fight; Kyoko, who has an extra finger and toe; and Taji, who is blind. As they train for a coming-of-age ceremony followed by the Samurai Trainee Games, they gain strength from the sensei's lessons (from sword fighting to calligraphy) and from their budding friendships. James's expressive b&w illustrations and Fussell's focus on misfits beating the odds should insure that this spirited story appeals to a broad audience. Ages 9–14. (Aug.)
Children's Literature - Julia Beiker
Our young hero, Niya Moto, brings a new twist to becoming a legend. He fights on one leg not unlike his namesake the white crane. The white crane stands confident and proud while Niya must learn this through the trials and tribulations that will be taught by Ki-Yaga, sensei of the Cockroach Ryu. Now Niya spends his days and nights building his strength and endurance to help his fellow misfits to beat the other samurai teams in the yearly competition where the evil dragons have dominated. Could this be the year that the cockroaches—named for an insect that has lasted through the ages—make their stand and show how inner strength and the support of good friends and a legendary leader makes them the team to take down the dragons? Fussell creates three dimensional characters that bring to life a world that young readers can only imagine until they realize these characters could be part of a modern day football or baseball team. Their unique handicaps like having only one leg or arm, being blind, or just being a girl in a boy's world capture their audience's heart and make them root for them throughout the book. I did feel the book lacked imagery because it stresses plot and character. This book belongs in any library where encouraging children to be their best is a priority. Reviewer: Julia Beiker
School Library Journal
Gr 5–7—Friendship triumphs in this Australian import set in feudal Japan. Niya Moto and his friends all struggle with a disadvantage in their samurai training: he is missing a leg, and his fellow students are missing an arm, are blind, have extra fingers and toes, or refuse to fight. But by putting faith in their friendship and following the quiet wisdom of their sensei, they discover they can triumph against the odds. Filled with Zen-sounding aphorisms, the book has moments of sheer cleverness, making the obvious themes easier to swallow. The style seems geared toward struggling readers, and the setting is sure to appeal to samurai vs. ninja fans who aren't too concerned about historical accuracy. Some details, such as sword making and bushido philosophy, seem well grounded in the period, while major plot designs, such as training children with missing limbs to be samurai, come across as utterly inaccurate, and Niya sounds like a modern Western narrator. Still, the depiction of children overcoming the physical odds is positive. Black-and-white illustrations enhance the storytelling, and the little bit of Japanese sprinkled in is well explained.—Alana Joli Abbott, James Blackstone Memorial Library, Branford, CT
Kirkus Reviews

Set in an alternative feudal-ish Japan, this is the story of five kids with severe disabilities or disfigurements who have been accepted for training in a school for samurai. The unusual Cockroach Ryu is directed by the elderly, highly respected (and amusingly crotchety) samurai Ki-Yaga. Ki-Yaga and his equally cranky horse, Uma, are distinct as characters and add much to the book—humor, tactics and the use of pudding as a tool for success. The plot starts unusually slowly, limiting tension, suspense and probably audience, since adventure fans expect lashings of the first two qualities from the start. And the five students in this book are identified primarily by their disabilities (blindness, one leg, one arm, having six fingers, fear of fighting) for the first third of the story. This disappointingly reductive technique results in unclear characterization; by the time additional and critical back story is provided, many readers will have given up. Given these flaws, it is doubtful that most kids will stay with the book long enough to become engaged with story or characters. (Adventure. 11-14)

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780763645038
Publisher:
Candlewick Press
Publication date:
08/10/2010
Series:
Samurai Kids Series, #1
Pages:
256
Product dimensions:
5.64(w) x 11.04(h) x 0.93(d)
Lexile:
590L (what's this?)
Age Range:
9 - 12 Years

Meet the Author

Sandy Fussell is a debut author who works in information technology and has a strong interest in history. She lives in Australia.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

LITTLE COCKROACHES

"Aye-eee-yah!"

I scissor-kick as high as I can and land on my right foot. I haven't got another one. My name is Niya Moto, and I'm the only one-legged samurai kid in Japan. Usually I miss my foot and land on my backside. Or flat on my face in the dirt.

I'm not good at exercises, but I'm great at standing on one leg. Raising my arms over my head, I pretend I am the White Crane. "Look at me!" the crane screeches across the training ground. "Look at him," the valley echoes.

But Sensei Ki-Yaga is not looking. My master sits in the sun with his back against the old, stooped cherry tree. He is as ancient as the mountains around our school and as dilapidated as the equipment we use. Most people think he died years ago.

Eyes shut, he's not watching me practice. That lazy old man slept through the only upright landing I've ever made! I lower my right arm, and the White Crane makes a rude gesture with its wing.

Sensei's wrinkled mouth creaks into a smile, but his eyes stay hidden behind closed lids. "A boy who cannot perfectly execute even half a scissor-kick should not waste time finding fault with his teacher. More practice, Little Cockroach." His voice rumbles like thunder.

"Yes, Master." I bow low to show my respect. Even though he is strict, I like Sensei, and I never forget that he was the only teacher not bothered by my missing leg.

"I am not a counter of feet," he told me. "I am a collector of more important parts. And when I buy you socks, they will last twice as long."
When the Cockroach Ryu wrote and offered me a samurai traineeship, Father was impressed.

"Look, Niya. Master Ki-Yaga wielded a sword in the days of legend, when the samurai were great and powerful. They fought in real battles then, not tournament rings like today."

"I thought he was dead," Mother added.

"So did I. He must be extremely old, but not too frail to write and ask for our boy."

Mother and Father are pushovers for a famous name, even an almost dead one. They looked at me proudly, as if I had done something special. I stood straight and tall on my one leg, and pretended I had. Anything, if they would let me go.

"It's too far away," Mother finally said. "The Cockroach Ryu is in the Tateyama Mountains. It's too cold there." In the end the decision made itself. I had no other offers. Even my father's old school, the Dragon Ryu, would not take me. "We regret to inform you we cannot accept a one-legged boy," their letter said. Father went to see the Dragon people, to yell they were honor-bound to teach his son, but they wouldn't even answer him. "The Dragon Ryu is not good enough for Niya," Father announced. "Niya will go to Ki-Yaga."

I wondered why such a great man wanted to teach a crippled boy. Maybe he felt sorry for me. But I didn't care. I desperately wanted to be a samurai. I would've hopped all the way to the mountains if necessary.

"Grandfather!" I called out to my elder who shared our house.

"Grandfather, I am to study with Sensei Ki-Yaga."

"I thought he was dead," Grandfather answered. Three years have passed since the day of the letter.

My town life is long gone. I am fourteen now, and this old school high on the mountain is my home. For another three years I will study here, and when I leave, I'll be a samurai warrior.

"Yah! Yah-ah!"

I punch the air with my foot and land on the other one I haven't got. Sprawled out on the grass, I lift my face to see if Sensei is watching this time. Even though his lids are still closed, the wrinkles at the edge of his face are smiling.

My bamboo crutch lies useless beside him. He won't let me use it when I practice.

"You don't need that," he says. "It will weigh you down."

Now, with my mouth full of dirt, I think I need some extra weight for balance. But I never give up, because in my heart I am the White Crane, proud and defiant.

When I was too young to carry a sword, Father took me to a lake to fish. A tall, thin bird stood at the water's edge. Staring at me with shining black eyes, the crane slowly tucked one leg up under its body. One-legged, just like me! My spirit totem flew into my heart. When I look into the mirror, I don't see my reflection; I see the White Crane. If I am afraid, it crouches with me and I'm not alone. When I am happy, it screeches my gladness to the world.

"More practice, Little Cockroach," Sensei growls. Lifting itself out of the grime, the White Crane shakes the dust from its snowy feathers.

"Eee-yah!" it cries as I begin the move again.

On the same day that I arrived at the Cockroach Ryu, three boys and one girl also came to the school's old, empty rooms: Mikko, with his one arm; Yoshi, who is huge and strong, but refuses to fight; Kyoko, who has an extra finger and an extra toe, and is a girl; Taji, blind in both eyes. And me. We're the unwanted. Unwanted everywhere else but here.

"A cracked bowl can hold water. There is nothing wrong with the bowl. It just needs to be held properly," Sensei instructs.

"Huh?" says Mikko.

Mikko's brain doesn't like to think unless it has to. "He means we are just as capable as everyone else."

"Maybe even better, with the right teacher," says Taji. Taji thinks a lot, because he can't see. He likes to sit in the sun and meditate. Sensei sits beside Taji with his eyes closed so he can't see either. Their oms drift through the practice ground. Closing my eyes, I think of Taji, who has two legs but has never seen the practice ring.

"Oy. Aye-yah. Oy!" I cry.

I kick high and land solid on my foot. Perfectly. Hopping around in excitement, the White Crane dances on one leg.

"Well done," Sensei calls.

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