Friday 12 August 2011

Review: The Boy Who Cried Ninja by Alex Latimer

Once there was a boy named Tim whom no one believed, even when he was telling the truth. No one believed that it was a ninja who snaffled the last slice of cake; or that a giant squid ate his homework; or that it really was a time-travelling monkey who was throwing pencils at Grampa. How can Tim get his parents to believe him - when the truth is too incredible to be true?

I remember an incident when I was a child where I accidentally broke a glass bowl that belonged to my mother. It was a hot day and both my parents were outside in the garden, so neither heard the crash of breaking glass, and I spent the next hour deliberating over whether I should own up, blame my little brother, or quickly sweep up the pieces, hide them and hope that no-one noticed for a while, by which time I could deny all knowledge. If memory serves me correctly I did actually own up (probably in floods of tears).

The Boy Who Cried Ninja takes a fresh look at a situation faced by most kids at some point when they are growing up: what is the least painful course of action when things go wrong..... own up or lie? In the case of Tim, the things he gets the blame for are all perpetrated by one of a cast of unusual characters: a ninja who ate the last slice of cake; a spaceman who borrowed Tim's dad's hammer without returning it; a giant squid who..... well that would ruin the story if I gave everything away. Of course, Tim's parents do not believe a word of it when he tells them the truth behind these incidents and punish him with chores, and so he decides that maybe telling lies would be better for him in the long run. Wrong! Poor little Tim... will he work out a way to make his parents believe him without telling lies?

I read a comment about this book written by someone somewhere sometime ago, stating that they thought the message the book gave across was not particularly appealing. From memory (as I can't remember where I read it) I think they were saying it encouraged kids to lie, and that it made parents out to be the bad guys for not believing their child. Poppycock and balderdash to that, I say. I think this would have kids giggling away with their parents about poor old Tim's predicament, and the underlying moral that telling the truth is always the best way forward will be clear in any child's mind by the time they come to the end of the story.

What a great title for a picture book. I read about it in the press sheets I receive from Random House once a month and just had to ask them for a copy. We all know that boys love ninjas right? And a boy is never to young to be told that ninjas are totally cool. The text of the story is funny, and repetitive in a way that will really engage children when read aloud to them (or by them), but for me the stand out feature of this lovely picture book are Alex Latimer's illustrations. It is amazing how much he conveys with his simple line drawings, quirky character images and pastel palette. If this is typical of the picture books being published these days then I need to feature more of them on The Book Zone.

You can find out more about Alex Latimer at his website or on his blog at