I reviewed The Legend of Ninja Cowboy Bear last year and basically didn't like the text, but loved the illustrations. I still don't like the text and I still love the illustrations! The ninja likes to play with his friends, cowboy and bear. But the ninja likes to do adventurous things, like jumping on beds and climbing trees. He persuades his friends to join him, instead of allowing them to choose what to play (picking flowers or painting pictures). They both get hurt and the ninja makes fun of them so they leave. Then the ninja is lonely and misses his friends - he goes to find them and works out a way that he can be adventurous, but not hurt his friends and join in their games. Everyone lives happily ever after. The pictures are adorably exquisite and I love that they handily translated the Japanese characters in a couple of the spreads. But the platitudes are just too much. I realize the story may be meant to be read tongue-in-cheek, but I don't think kids will see it that way. Of course, the fact that the text is didactic and cliched doesn't detract from kids enjoying this series and most parents WANT "issue" books anyways. I just don't like it personally.
Verdict: Add this one if you already have the original. It's popular with many parents and kids don't care about the didactism. And the pictures are lovely!
The Way of the Ninja by David Bruins, illustrated by Hilary Leung
ISBN: 978-1554536153; Published September 2010 by Kids Can Press; Review copy provided by the publisher through Raab Associates
[Nominated for Cybils]
This one I don't think even issue-happy parents will be clamoring for. The blocky, photoshopped illustrations tell the story of a moose who doesn't like to get wet, cold, or really enjoy anything outdoors. He searches for what he feels he's missing through meditation, on the internet, and "Praying to the Moose above". Finally, he realizes he needs to "take life by the antlers" to find what he's missing. He promptly sets sail in a convenient sailboat, gets caught in a storm, stranded on a desert island, and decides to make the best of things instead of giving in to circumstances. He creates a Robinson Crusoe-like life on the island with his new turtle friend Tuesday, gets rescued by a ship and enjoys a long cruise home, then happily greets his friends and invites them to go cliff-diving.
I'm not quite sure what the point of this story is. Sure, you could hand it to kids who spend their lives vegetating in front of the tv, but I don't really see them turning it off and going outside to explore based on this. Or the same things for kids who are scared to try new things. The book is very humorous, but the humor is waaaay over the heads of most kids. They're unlikely to pick up on the Robinson Crusoe joke (most adults are unlikely to pick up on this for that matter) or the finding yourself humor, or the golf ball epiphany. I think this story really had adults in mind - probably best as a graduation gift.
Verdict: A fun graduation gift, but not recommended for a children's library collection.
Making the moose out of life by Nicholas Oldland
ISBN: 978-1554535804; Published August 2010 by Kids Can Press; Review copy provided by the publisher through Raab Associates