From 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
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Four, later five teen samurai—most with physical differences—beat the odds at the annual Samurai Trainee Games in this opener to the Samurai Kids series. Once a mighty warrior but now an old man who seemingly prefers to doze in the shade, sensei Ki-Yaga has invited an unlikely crew to his Cockroach Ryu (school) for instruction in the arts and ethics of Bushido. As seen through the eyes of one-legged narrator Niya Moto, that instruction involves more horseplay than hard practice with pink-eyed Kyoko, who has extra digits on her hands and feet; one-armed Mikko; blind Taji; and other schoolmates—but the Cockroaches display sufficient spirit and teamwork to emerge triumphant in the games over the sneering Dragons. Though not exactly filled with wall-to-wall action like Jeff Stone's Five Ancestors series, the tale is lightened by pratfalls and wry bits of “wisdom” (“He who remembers what Bushido teaches will never miss out on great desserts”) and is threaded with information about traditional samurai values. James' Japanese-style spot art and tableaus at the plot's high points supply martial-arts atmosphere. Grades 5-8. --John Peters