When something is of value to us, it finds a place of importance in our lives. If it's a skill to be learned we observe, listen, study and practice. We devote time; it becomes a joyful commitment. Another component is passion. It needs to find a place in our heart.
For some another element may be discovered sooner or later in pursuit of this special endeavor. In the first picture book he has written and illustrated, NINJA! (Henry Holt and Company), Arree Chung introduces us to a boy with exceptional purpose. Shh! Let's follow Maxwell on his latest mission.
A ninja needs a thick ninja stick, silent ninja footwear, sticky ninja gloves, an unbreakable ninja rope, and a bouncy ninja paddle.
Once he has the tools of his trade, confidence needs to be declared with gusto. Maxwell proceeds to acquaint readers with other traits of a skilled champion; the nimble actions of an Olympic gymnast. With the goal in sight, every impediment must be overcome (including moving the family dog peacefully sleeping).
Exact care must be taken to advance effectively; a warrior needs to dig deep within himself relying on his inner fortitude. Nothing is more important, not a single thing, than catching your subject off guard and scaring them witless. (It looks like Dad's nap on the couch is over.) With this objective fulfilled, it's on to phase two.
Into the kitchen our fearless warrior sneaks. His younger sister is about to have a snack of cookies and milk. To ensure continued success he must maneuver with extreme caution avoiding his mom at all costs.
Barely breathing, with measured movement and faith in his abilities at an all-time high, Maxwell leaps, climbs and balances into action. With two cries ringing out, the scales are tipped. The only honorable thing to do is done. A young boy has found the final element.
Rich in language with not a single wasted word, Arree Chung gives us a window into the marvelous mind of Maxwell as he fulfills his desire for all things ninja. As each item this ninja uses is listed notice the descriptive adjectives. In relating his movements a simple beat is created by the word choices; continuing as he tells us of a ninja's inner qualities and movements during the final stage of his mission. This builds wonderfully and in contrast to his boyish glee at his accomplishments. It also prepares us readers for the final two pages revealing the heart of a true ninja.
Flap edge to flap edge the dust jacket unfolds in a series of illustrations left to right, back to front, giving us glimpses into the narrative. Beneath the book case with a wood grain background (closet doors) we see Maxwell on the front swiftly moving across the space declaring his status. On the back is his sister happily observing her brother. Both the dust jacket and book case feature the main character initially but focus on the importance of the younger sister if we fully extend them. A pattern of folded paper ninja stars on a woven background (the same as the rug in the house) cover the opening and closing endpapers.
Rendered in acrylic paint on Rives BFK paper, found paper and Photoshop, the color palette is a direct reflection of the story line; shadowed for stealth, the background shifting to a royalty red (my description alone) with the luminous golden dragon when Maxwell's imagination is highlighted, lighter hues as he moves into the kitchen, total darkness when the discovery is made and back to light on the final pages. Arree Chung changes from one image size to another, two pages, a series of geometric panels across two pages or an individual page, or a single page, as the action dictates. The expressive facial features on the characters (and body movements) enhance the text providing readers with a hearty dose of humor.
Two of my favorite series of images are when he defeats the angry beast, a series of panels on a single page, and the two pages of panels bursting with action prior to his completed mission. The design and layout, the changing perspectives and colors make readers feel like they are participants. Seriously though, all the illustrations in this book are evidence of this boy's love of being a ninja and the imaginative gifts he uses to live his story.
Grab a bag of ties, hand them out to your listeners and let the distinctive words and pictures spin a tale of wonder and laughter as Maxwell's escapades unfold in NINJA! written and illustrated by Arree Chung. I am certain you will need more than one copy available to your readers. This is sure to prompt discussions of other imagined adventures. You could fold paper ninja stars having listeners write a phrase for or draw their favorite parts on the points.
Please follow the links embedded in Arree Chung's name to access his website and blog. His website has numerous fun-filled ideas. Many bloggers featured posts about NINJA! on its release date or during the release week. You can learn more about the book by reading their thoughts and interviews of Arree Chung. (These are the ones I could find. Please list any others in the comments.) Here are their names along with their blogs:
Cynthia Alaniz, teacher librarian Librarian in Cute Shoes
Niki Barnes second grade teacher Daydream READER
Alyson Beecher, educator Kid Lit Frenzy
Carter Higgins, author, teacher librarian Design Of The Picture Book
Debbie Ridpath Ohi author illustrator inkygirl
Katherine Sololowski, fifth grade reading and language arts teacher Read, Write, Reflect
John Schumacher teacher librarian Watch. Connect. Read.
UPDATE: Here is the link to an interview given at KidLit411.