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Review: Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny by John Himmelman

Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny
By John Himmelman

Henry Holt (Macmillan)

ISBN: 9780805099706
Grades 1-4
Out October 28, 2014

Find it at:
Schuler Books | Your Library

In a children’s literature landscape where “lesson” has become a bad word, books that overtly seek to impart wisdom have become more the exception than the rule. Mention the word “didactic” in the company of gatekeepers (or, for that matter, book creators) and watch as everyone recoils in horror. Because of this, Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny, brimming with enlightenment, stands out like a bright red paper-over-board flag. A sort of Zen Shorts-meets-early-chapter-book, author/illustrator John Himmelman (Chickens to the Rescue) delivers Zen philosophy to the lower elementary set in a way that always entertains and never patronizes.

While Isabel can out-punch, out-kick, and out-throw her classmates, it isn’t her physical gifts that truly set her apart – it’s her intelligence.

‘Bunjitsu is not just about kicking, hitting, and throwing,’ she said. ‘It is about finding ways not to kick, hit, and throw.’

Through 13 short chapters, Isabel’s poise and savvy is on display as she defeats opponents big, small, and scary. She bests a locked door by taking the window, a band of pirates by giving them what they want, and an angry wave by going with the flow. Through it all, Isabel uses brains first, brawn only when necessary.

This is the sort of book I can’t wait to bring to kids because it will cast a wide net. While books with female main characters (hey, just being honest here) can be a hard sell with boys, Bunjitsu Bunny will be welcomed by all. Chalk this up to the martial arts, a discipline that holds wide appeal.

A martial arts student and instructor himself, Himmelman nicely balances the action and the reflection. While each chapter seeks to teach, the lesson isn’t spoon-fed, holding the individual responsible for deciphering it. Because of this, Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny will reach its fullest potential when discussion is involved.

With each chapter essentially functioning as a stand-alone story, some are bound to be more effective than others. But the overall success rate is high, and readers will likely find themselves finishing this book in one sitting, eager to see how Isabel will outsmart her next opponent.

The black and white spot illustrations use a thick line and are accented with a single color – red. There’s a reason The White Stripes chose black, white, and red as their exclusive colors – it’s a striking combination. That holds true in this case too. The inky brush strokes are expressive and full of motion, well suited to these stories.

As entertaining as it is discussion-worthy, Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny will be a popular and powerful addition to your collection.

Review copy from the publisher.

Also reviewed by A Book and a Hug, Librarian Arika.

About Travis Jonker

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at scopenotes@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.