Samurai Kids, Book 1: White Crane, published by Walker Books Australia, is such a book. I loved this story. It was written by Sandy Fussell, an Australian author whose book Polar Boy was recently short-listed for a CBCA award. I'd recommend this book to kids over eight, particularly those with an interest in martial arts or who want lots of action, humour and tension in their books.
It's about a group of misfit kids who want to be Samurai warriors. They are the Little Cockroaches, under the tutelage of their sensei, Ki-Yaga. The narrator is Niya Moto, a boy with one leg. Despite their disabilities, or sometimes because of their disabilities, the Samurai kids want to prove to themselves and those who despise them that they are worthy of the title Samurai Warrior.
Despite being a novel, White Crane is illustrated beautifully by Rhian Nest James. The occasional line drawings and chapter banners add a wonderful Asian "flavour" to the book, and are reminders of authentic Japanese/Chinese art work. The book would make an excellent choice as a resource for students studying culture, or for anyone who wants to encourage tolerance and respect as key human values. There's even a Samurai Kids website, with lots of added extras and fun stuff for kids to do.
Apart from it being a rattling good adventure story, with characters you feel like you know, White Crane also impressed me because of Sandy Fussell's meticulous attention to detail. I've never lived in feudal Japan, but I feel as though I've experienced it vicariously through Niya. From the Bushido code Ki-Yaga quotes, to the Samurai kids' fascination with honey pudding, it all helps to bring the story to life, and make the reader want more.
Some books you finish with a sigh, regretting that the story which enthralled you has come to an end. Luckily for me, there are two other books in the Samurai Kids series, with a fourth coming soon. I know I won't be the only fan to turn my sigh into one of relief. Samurai Kids, Book 2, here I come!
Book Chook News Flash: Sandy has agreed to be a guest here soon at the Book Chook blog!