Ninja Camp (Sue Fliess)

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.)

Hug It Out! (Louis Thomas)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Hug It Out! by Louis Thomas, a tale of sibling rivalry and love.

Woody and Annie have been fighting all afternoon, and their mother has had enough. So she implements a new punishment: whenever they argue, they must “hug it out” until they calm down. And sure enough, after every disagreement, name called, or hair tugged, their mother’s voice rings, “Hug it out!” After hours of hugging, the pair are happy to avoid each other rather than endure another forced embrace. But once they separate, the siblings find that they miss each other. Perhaps another hug wouldn’t be the worst… 

This book definitely had a very relatable theme. Most siblings, or parents of siblings, will easily recognize the love-hate dynamic that Woody and Annie share, and the resolution of their story felt very organic. The illustrations were very cute, with the pen-and-watercolor art striking a good balance of visual appeal for little ones while adding some humor for adults (the siblings’ increasingly exasperated mother is a relatable character indeed). My only complaint runs along the lines of the forced hugging, which is played for laughs here. While most would consider this a reasonable punishment, others may feel uncomfortable with the idea of forcing children to sustain physical contact against their consent. It would definitely be a judgement call for the reader. Otherwise, it had a good length, but JJ wasn’t overly jazzed about it. But it’s a fine book that older bookworms, especially those with siblings, may enjoy more, so we will call this one Baby Bookworm approved overall.