Thursday, December 11, 2014

Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny by John Himmelman

Isabel is the best bunjitsu bunny in her school.  She may appear like a cute little thing, but don't be fooled. She'll high kick and outsmart anyone. Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny is an early reader with a unique mix of 12 fable-like tales and martial arts. I have never come across anything quite like it. The bunny's skills come from an ancient Japanese martial art called, jujitsu, that teaches self-defense while building individual awareness and self-confidence. It does not rely on strength or weapons, but hand-to-hand combat and technique. Each chapter has a moral that the reader has to figure out along with Isabel who is is either practicing jujitsu techniques or in a contest or combatant setting. The humorous illustrations show a bunch of pirates sinking in a boat as Isabel outwits them to her brother accidentally pole-vaulting himself several miles away. The cartoonish characters and situations make for great fun.

The first chapter has Isabel thinking creatively when faced with a problem. The reader gets dumped into the middle of the story with not much setup. Short like a fable and designed to impart wisdom, it looks at issues children deal with or is funny. At the start, the pack of martial art student-bunnies are trying to use their strength and varied jujitsu moves to break down a door. The last move is a good laugh as they try the "running bunjitsu head butt!" at which point Isabel opens the door and lets them in. She ditched the group in the middle of their efforts and climbed through a window into the locked room. Not only does this show the lesson to not rely on strength, which is a teaching of jujitsu, but it shows creative problem-solving.

The next chapter has pirates underestimating Isabel's bunny power as they try to bully her into giving them her boat. She overthrows them all using several different jujitsu moves and watches them sink in her boat. The twist on the Tortoise and the Hare fable has the moral that winning comes from envisioning yourself victorious and having positive self-talk. Other lessons are on how to avoid a fight, practice hard to improve skills, and face your worries. In an ironic twist, Isabel plays hide-and-seek with her friends but is so good at "disappearing," they can't find her. Bored she lets herself be easily found the next time they play. When her friend confronts her, she replies, "Its more fun to be found by friends than lost by friends." Young readers love books on friendship and will be able to relate to this message. I oftentimes find fables somewhat terse and too short, but that isn't the case here. While I did think the first two chapters were abrupt (as I usually feel with fables), John Himmelman does a terrific job with craft and I slipped into the action-packed storyline and illustrations quickly.

Another short chapter has a metaphor of an angry wave that can be applied to something upsetting in life. Bunjitsu bunny discovers that anger is best dealt with by not fighting it but letting it run its course. At first she fights the wave, but later rides it and learns to have fun. She is learning to control her emotions and build confidence in herself. Again, young readers are trying to control their emotions, as well as, make friends and gain confidence as they grow older. These messages are cleverly hidden as the reader enjoys the surface story. This book could also be used with older students that struggle to find depth in novels. One could simplify the concept with the short chapters.

Perhaps bunjitsu bunny is really more like judo which was invented by a man that learned jujitsu and then created his own moves. Here, the bunny creates her own fables mixing in martial arts. At the end when a boulder crushes her flower garden, she responds by turning it into a rock garden. Flexibility and adapting to changes is another jujitsu skill that any person can apply to different situations in life. Kids should love the simple black, white, and red illustrations, fun storyline, messages with some depth. Because it is for younger it might require an adult explanation. A good read aloud with your child or class.

5 Smileys

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