How fitting that my kids and I read Ninja Boy Goes to School the day before school started. I anticipated the story to be a this-is-how-you-are-brave-at-school message, which was a tale my kindergarten-starting son might especially appreciate.
I must admit I was a little surprised by the story that actually unfolded!
N.D. Wilson introduces how to be a ninja—a job that’s not for just anybody. A ninja must be silent, nimble, strong, graceful. He brings levity to this serious topic with parenthetical comments that are cute and funny. J.J. Harrison keeps the talk of ninja on the appropriate kid level with bright illustrations that are a great balance of serious ninja and silly kid.
Ninja Boy—we don’t ever know his name—goes to school by bus, but instead of sitting in the seat, he suction cups himself to the roof of the bus, something my kids howled at. Other kids on this page laugh at Ninja Boy too, but he is too committed to being a ninja to notice or care.
And this is where the story takes an unexpected turn. Ninja Boy sits in class quietly, then opens a window, and jumps out of it! “A ninja’s spirit is never caged,” I read as ninja boy busts out of the window like a gazelle, unhappy to be confined to a classroom. (I had to add my own parenthetical comments to my kids “Don’t try this at school, kids.”) His teacher finds him playing on the empty playground and shows Ninja Boy the way to the principal’s office, where he uses his ninja wisdom to sit silently through the lecture and phone call. His father picks him up from school, takes away his ninja stuff and sends Ninja Boy to his room.
The last page is Ninja Boy, standing in superman stance, totally proud and defiant, still feeling like a ninja despite the lack of a costume. “Don’t forget, a ninja must pretend that he is not really a ninja…even though he is.” This is how the story ends.
From a kid’s perspective: What a crowd-pleaser! My kids liked it. The book is funny and different and the illustrations are wonderful. The idea of a boy sneaking around his house and school, defying teachers certainly kept my kids’ attention. They even agreed that Ninja Boy made a bad choice and his punishment was deserved.
From this mom’s perspective: I’m not a huge fan. It was the last page, the defiant and you-can’t-get-me-down look on his face that surprised me. I thought the message was going to be that a ninja should use his powers for good, not for selfish endeavors. Something like that. I didn’t need him to hang his head and ask for forgiveness through a bucket of tears. However, N.D. Wilson wrote such an attention-grabbing book that I wanted him to use the attention he held for good, not just for funny purposes.
Confession: One of my strengths is over-thinking things; I feel moved to over-think and over-analyze every picture book that comes across my lap. This review is one example of how I might just be over-thinking this book, too.
The truth is that books can (I think, should be) conversation starters, a way to introduce something new, or just a vehicle for a good story with no huge moral—the important thing is that we have books in front of us and we are reading, together.
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Books-a-Million!
MSRP: approximately $13
Ages: 4-8 years
|Kept My Children’s Interest||5|
|Appealed to Both Boys and Girls
|I Would Purchase for My Child||No|
|I Would Purchase as a Gift||Yes
All ratings on a scale of 1 (low) to 5 (high).
Meet the Reviewer!
Kate Schwarz is a full-time mom and wife living in Great Falls, VA. In addition to reading to her three small children, Kate is a writer, distance runner, Crossfitter and blogger about raising kids with books at www.katesbookery.blogspot.com.