(Advance Reader Copy)
Set in an undetermined year, after the heyday of the samurai warrior class and prior to its demise in the 19th century, White Crane is an improbable story of a ryu, or Japanese school of martial arts, inhabited by a revered warrior teacher and his hand-picked students, each disabled in some way. Niya Moto is White Crane, the story's one-legged narrator, so named for his spirit totem. The white crane is a kindred creature, as comfortable as Niya in standing upon only one leg. Kyoko, the White Monkey is an albino with extra fingers and toes. One-armed Mikko is the Striped Gecko, Taji is blind and guided by the Golden Bat. Yoshi, pacifist, yet strong and sturdy, still searches for his spirit. All are under the guidance of the wily Sensei, who is so old that the mere mention of his name usually elicits the response, "I thought he was dead." All are preparing for the yearly ceremonial competition between the Boar, Dragon, Eagle, Rabbit, Snake, Wolf and Cockroach ryus. Niya's ryu is, of course, The Cockroach; but as Sensei reminds his pupils,
Cockroaches are small, but they are very hard to kill.Though the characters may be improbable, White Crane is believable. With writing reflective of the Japanese philosophical code known as Bushido, the reader is drawn into a world in which the most important concerns are Chi! Jin! Yu!, wisdom, benevolence, courage. White Crane is not without humor, however. When the boys travel to the village to see the master swordsmith, they bow low to honor his age, reputation and craftsmanship,
He chants as he works, I want to listen, but Onaku's singing is even worse than mine. Covering my ears would be impolite, so I grit my teeth and hum inside my head. Om. Om. Om. "An honorable sword sings loudly with truth and purity, " Sensei teaches. No wonder Master Onaku's swords are so prized. They are born singing at the top of their lungs to drown out their maker's awful voice.
The chapters move swiftly, each containing an illustrated title page and a additional full page, action-packed sketch by Rhian Nest James. With five students, many competing schools, and a fascinating period in history, debut author Sandy Fussell has all the ingredients for a great new series. Recommended for 4th grade and up.
Read a sample chapter here.
Due on shelves August 2010
Samurai warriors, circa 1880.
(Photograph from Wikimedia Commons)