WHITE CRAIN by Sandy Fussell, illustrated by Rhian Nest James, Candlewick Press, 2010.
Niya Moto, narrator, is a 14 year old boy whose father was a samurai. However, Niya can’t attend his father’s school for training because he has only one leg.
Along with five fellow students who have their own obstacles to overcome, Niya studies with sensei Ki-Yaga, an ancient but legendary warrior. Ki-Yaga teaches them not only physical skills, but mental and spiritual ones.
The humor is sly and subtle. Chapter titles like “Bad Breath and Big Feet” are gigglers.
The learning process is deep and gentle. A glossary of useful words and the 7 virtues of Bushido (samurai code) ground the story.
The kids are well defined personalities and even though they encounter great cruelties because of their lack of physical perfection, disability is only a small part of what tags each one. Sensei leads, guides, prods them into greater perspectives. Their spirit totems reveal character while friendship, loyalty, and using one’s head to think a problem through create triumphant outcomes.
This is Sandy Fussell’s debut novel. Illustrator Rhian Nest James has illustrated more than 60 children’s books. Both live in Australia.