Hello, friends! Our book today is Ninja Camp, written by Sue Fliess and illustrated by Jen Taylor, an imagining of an outdoor ninja training camp for kids.
Ninja Camp has begun! You must learn speed, stealth, and strength. You must be fierce and fearless. And above all, you must protect the Shadow Blade, the camp’s prized sword-in-the-stone. Following a team of five young ninjas and their counselor, the reader gets an idea of their training – that is, until the rival camp is seen making off with the Shadow Blade! What are these brave young ninjas to do?
Oh, I wanted to like this more than I did. Fliess’s stories are typically fun to read, full of bouncy rhymes and creative plot lines – and in truth, that applies here. The text is fun to read, and the opening training montage is pretty standard for the “so you want to be a ninja” genre. The issues arise in the visuals, specifically some questionable choices that are made regarding be use of weapons and violence. Children are seen using actual weapons: throwing stars, swords, nunchucks, etc. In fact, during the climatic battle, the rival children face off using these weapons, as well as implied martial arts blows and kicks, ending in the central character pinning another children down, BY THE NECK, with her nunchucks. It’s unsettling, and not the best message to send kids about conflict resolution. Making it worse is something other reviewers have also pointed out: while the cast of children is commendably diverse in skintone and body type, it is the sole white child that is the most talented, the most brave, and the eventual savior of the day, ending the story atop a rock, holding the Shadow Blade (again, a REAL SWORD that was used in a fight against other children) aloft as the various children of color pay deference beneath her. It does not make for a comfortable visual. And while I acknowledge that any book about ninjas will probably include some reference to fighting, I can think of a few excellent ones that do not then devolve into armed child-on-child violence. Not for us.
(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)