Heroic cat, orphans in tales with creative punch
By Jolie Jean Cotton
By Jolie Jean Cotton
Two new books that mix Asian philosophy, athletic skill and adventure will appeal to Hawai'i's young martial-arts fans.
"THE OUTLAW VARJAK PAW" by SF Said, David Mc-Kean illustrator; $16.95, ages 10 and up, David Fickling Books
For readers ages 10 and up, "The Outlaw Varjak Paw," sequel to "Varjak Paw," continues the story of a Mesopotamian blue cat who leaves his comfortable home to save his family from invading black cats. Through dreams, Jalal teaches Varjak the "Seven Skills of the Way," a secret martial art for cats.
Now, Varjak is living in the harsh city with two other cats and a dog named Cludge. It's winter, and the group is doing its best to keep from starving. Worse, the evil Sally Bones gang is after Varjak, and they want him dead or alive. Gang leader Sally Bones also knows the Seven Skills, and is more adept at them than Varjak. While the world around him spirals into a fierce gang war, it's easy to connect with Varjak, because he's a reluctant hero, who prefers to avoid a fight.
Author SF Said's delicious imagination creates a world populated with believably flawed characters and a complex story line. The action is fast-paced, the fight scenes dramatic and intense. Sharp silhouettes and black and white drawings of ninja-like action sequences add to the book's appeal.
"SNAKE (THE FIVE ANCESTORS)" by Jeff Stone; $15.95, ages 13 and up, Random House
I recommend the "Five Ancestors" series for teenagers only. These books read like graphic novels and are too violent for younger children.
The stories follow the fortunes of five orphans being raised as foster brothers and Buddhist monks in 17th century China. Grandmaster gives the boys animal names, and trains them in a martial-arts style to compliment their animal strengths.
Throughout their adventures, Tiger, Monkey, Snake, Crane and Dragon are searching for clues to their past and attempting to figure out their destiny in life.
"Snake," the third book, is set in Henan province in A.D. 1650. Seh, a master of snake-style kung fu, is on a mission to gather as much information as he can, following the disappearance of Grandmaster and the destruction of Cangzhen and the Shaolin Temple. To gather knowledge, as knowledge is power, Seh takes on a secret identity, joins a group of bandits and along the way, meets his father.
While both series are action-packed page-turners, the "Five Ancestors" tales focus more on the fighting and adventure, while "Varjak Paw" weaves together stories with more depth, complexity and ingenuity.
Jolie Jean Cotton is a Honolulu mom and writer. Her reviews of children's books appear here on the first Sunday of each month.