Official Review: The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy Book 2...

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ALynnPowers
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Official Review: The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy Book 2...

Post by ALynnPowers » 30 Aug 2015, 09:51

[Following is the official OnlineBookClub.org review of "The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy Book 2 Chasing Dreams" by Claire Youmans.]
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3 out of 4 stars
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As an American living in Japan, I like to consider myself an advocate for introducing Japanese culture to the Western world. You can imagine my delight when I was given the opportunity to read and review Claire Youmans’s novel for middle-grade readers, Chasing Dreams, the second volume of The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy series, which is set in a mythological Japan sometime during the Meiji period (1868-1912). I did not read the first book of this series, but this volume includes a prologue containing a summary of the events from book one, leading up to the beginning of Chasing Dreams. It is most important to note that Azuki has the ability to transform into a toki, a type of large bird with extremely valuable feathers, and Shota can transform into a sparrow.

Following the rather dramatic and traumatic events of the previous book, Azuki has escaped imprisonment thanks to the help of her younger brother Shota, and the two of them are currently in hiding under the protection of a nomadic monk. Posing as the monk’s student, Azuki disguises herself as a boy while Shota takes to his sparrow form and keeps a look-out from the skies as the three of them travel across their region in order to meet with Lord Eitaro. As recent orphans, Lord Eitaro is now responsible for their future, and he holds the power to send them to any low-ranking position that he wishes. Meanwhile, the children discover valuable information that could help give Lord Eitaro an advantage in an upcoming battle over their homeland. During their journey, the children encounter a variety of interesting creatures and people.

I’m not sure if my own personal knowledge of Japanese culture was a help or a hindrance for me in reading this novel. It was fun to see something in print (and in English) about an uncommon topic that I know about from first-hand experience, especially regarding food, clothing, and old traditions. Sometimes the Japanese words are used for concepts that do not easily translate into English, with excellent descriptions to explain those words. The author definitely does a good job accurately depicting traditional Japanese culture and making it easy to understand. There are also pictures of old Japanese paintings from this time period included at the beginning of each chapter, and the paintings seem to follow along with the characters or events in the story.

On the other hand, because none of this information was new to me, I found it a bit easy to get bored while I was reading. Some sections made me feel like I was reading a dry anthropological passage or a Japanese political history textbook; though I could tolerate it due to my own interest in such ideas, I’m not sure that younger readers would be able to push themselves through such heavy topics. Perhaps reading the first book would help; even adding more dialogue to the text would be helpful. Young Shota, who always asks a lot of questions anyway, would be a good source to help dig for information, rather than just presenting the information as facts in long paragraphs.

I give this book a rating of 3 out of 4 stars. For younger readers, it would probably be better to read the first book of the series before reading this book, to prevent being bogged down with so much new information at the beginning of the story. I would recommend this book to middle-grade readers up through adults who are interested in the traditional mythology of Japan.

******
The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy Book 2 Chasing Dreams
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Post by Levi » 31 Aug 2015, 17:33

@ALynnPowers great job bringing the story to life. I've always wanted my spirit animal to be a bird so I could fly. ;) Therefore, that drew me right in, as any story with magical powers can to a reader who loves those kinds of things. Avian powers and traveling with solitary monks, check. Yep, right up my alley. I agree with your assessment too though that too much information could bog down the story enough to lose younger readers. Hopefully, for the author, that is not the case or, like you said, the rest of the series carries it. Either way, congrats to the author on a great review.
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Post by hsimone » 01 Sep 2015, 18:09

ALynnPowers, I really enjoyed your review! The cover definitely drew me in and the fact that these children can turn into some form of a bird. I with Escapeartist, if I could transform into any animal, I would definitely want it to be a bird. The book does sounds interesting enough that I would like to try, and I am curious if some of my students would enjoy it...thanks for a great, detailed review!
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Post by ALynnPowers » 02 Sep 2015, 04:07

hsimone wrote:ALynnPowers, I really enjoyed your review! The cover definitely drew me in and the fact that these children can turn into some form of a bird. I with Escapeartist, if I could transform into any animal, I would definitely want it to be a bird. The book does sounds interesting enough that I would like to try, and I am curious if some of my students would enjoy it...thanks for a great, detailed review!
You should check out the first book in the series and let me know what you think! It might be better for students to start there, anyway! :)

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Post by chytach18- » 02 Sep 2015, 04:20

Honest review on an unusual book. I have very little knowledge about Japan but I am always fascinated by any information about the people and culture. This book is a fantasy, isn`t it?
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Post by ALynnPowers » 02 Sep 2015, 07:26

chytach18- wrote:Honest review on an unusual book. I have very little knowledge about Japan but I am always fascinated by any information about the people and culture. This book is a fantasy, isn`t it?
Yes, but it includes a lot of true information, especially regarding culture: food, language, social norms, etc. It's also more about traditional Japanese instead of modern, but it's actually kind of amazing how much of the old culture is still relevant today.

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Post by Rachaelamb1 » 05 Sep 2015, 08:22

I think it is great that you can give us an insider's opinion on whether or not the cultural information is correct. Sounds like the author did a terrific job on that aspect.
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Post by ALynnPowers » 07 Sep 2015, 04:11

Rachaelamb1 wrote:I think it is great that you can give us an insider's opinion on whether or not the cultural information is correct. Sounds like the author did a terrific job on that aspect.
I would definitely agree with you on that. I feel like this book was put up for review specifically for me. Hahahah.

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Post by Tanaya » 25 Sep 2015, 17:06

Some sections made me feel like I was reading a dry anthropological passage or a Japanese political history textbook...
I really enjoyed reading your critiques, especially this paragraph. I read a story with similar issues recently. I guess it can be difficult to strike the right balance between telling the story and making sure the reader is well-informed about an unfamiliar topic. Great review!
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Post by ALynnPowers » 28 Sep 2015, 09:49

Tanaya wrote:
Some sections made me feel like I was reading a dry anthropological passage or a Japanese political history textbook...
I really enjoyed reading your critiques, especially this paragraph. I read a story with similar issues recently. I guess it can be difficult to strike the right balance between telling the story and making sure the reader is well-informed about an unfamiliar topic. Great review!
Aw, thanks. And you're right about it being difficult to strike the right balance. I feel like I am the same way when it comes to giving information within reviews. :)

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Post by CCtheBrave » 15 Oct 2015, 19:14

You brought up really good points about the appropriate audience for this book. It sounds like a cool read, though, for an adult
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Post by cheryltkn » 19 Aug 2016, 10:31

Thanks for these reviews. I have added them to the To Read list and look forward to reading them. I will look out for the history lesson aspect and the warning will help me get past it. Thanks again.
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