CM . . .
. Volume XXIV Number 24. . . .February 23, 2018
Tanya Lloyd Kyi. Illustrated by Celia Krampien.
Toronto, ON: Annick Press, 2017.
61 pp., pbk., hc., HTML & PDF, $14.95 (pbk.), $19.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55451-965-1 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55451-966-8 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-55451-967-5 (HTML), ISBN 978-1-55451-968-2 (PDF).
Grades 2-5 / Ages 7-10.
Review by Crystal Sutherland.
"Who were those men?" she asked her parents, both still standing in the doorway.
"Visitors from Kofu," her father replied.
Chiyome's eyes widened. Hours to the northeast, Kofu was the home of Takeda Shingen, one of the most powerful daimyos in all of Japan. People called him The Tiger because he was so ruthless and hungry for power.
"You'll be going there next week," Chiyome's father continued.
"To…to be a ninja?" she asked.
He laughed drily. "No. To be married, to Takeda Shingen's nephew. A samurai," he said.
"A good match," her mother added.
Chiyome half listened as her parents discussed her escort for the road, and the honor of associating their family with that of Takeda Shingen. "This could be another layer of protection for Koga," her father said.
Chiyome's head was spinning. An hour ago, she’d been dreaming of work as a spy and a warrior; now she was about to be married. She felt as if an earthquake was shaking her whole life. But for years, Sensei had taught her about duty, to her family and to her village. She struggled for acceptance. Was it possible she was never supposed to be a ninja? Maybe this marriage was her destiny.
For as long as she can remember Chiyome has wanted to follow in her great grandfather's footsteps and become one of the best fighters in the history of her province. In addition to grueling training, Chiyome has to work hard to simply convince the Sensi to allow her, a girl, to train to be a Ninja, a role typically for men only, and she is positive he's harder on her than the others in order to make her prove herself worthy. Her training includes being hung upside down over the edge of a cliff until she's no longer scared, a seemingly impossible feat, but one she completes quickly, impressing her classmates and instructor and earning her Ninja status.
Life is coming together as planned until the son of a powerful daimyo knocks on Chiyome's parents' door asking for Chiyome's hand in marriage. She has never wanted to live a quiet life at home, but marrying a man of his status would improve the status of her own family. Out of a sense of duty, Chiyome accepts his hand and her new, quiet future. She doesn’t have time to settle before fate strikes again: her husband is killed in battle. Chiyome waits a respectable amount of time for mourning before approaching her father in law with a plan that is guaranteed to catch his enemies off guard.
Chiyome proposes a different sort of army: she will travel Japan to find orphaned girls who have the character traits required to become ninjas. She will ensure the girls are educated, taught how to perform tea ceremonies and act as shrine maidens, and, most importantly, she will train them as ninjas. Their education and undaunting appearance will be key to getting near soldiers so they can count armies and learn secrets and plans of attack. While what is known about Chiyome and her ‘travelling girls’ is mostly considered folklore, the author points out that historic events match up too well for there not to be some truth to the life and accomplishments of Chiyome.
From the moment readers are introduced to Chiyome, they will be in awe of her determination and achievements, putting her mind to becoming what was likely the first female ninja and outperforming her male classmates along the way. With a glossary of Japanese terms at the back, the new vocabulary won’t interrupt the flow of the story packed with action.
With modern drawings interspersed with ancient Japanese art, the illustrations make Chiyome’s story feel authentic and not just pieces of folklore blended with the author’s imaginings. The epilogue adds to the story, showing how the story of Chiyome fits with historical fact, and how her title as the first known female ninja is present in pop culture today, from graphic novels to numerous incarnations in video games.
Shadow Warrior is a fast paced story with ups and downs that will keep readers on the edge of their seats, and it would be difficult to find someone who didn’t want the mix of history and fiction to be 100% true. Demonstrating that sheer will and determination can make anything possible, Chiyome will prove to be an inspiration to all readers, regardless of gender.
A MEd (Literacy) and MLIS graduate, Crystal Sutherland is the librarian at the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women and lives in Halifax, NS.
© CM Association
University of Manitoba
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