FRIDAY BOOK FEATURE – FIRE LIZARD REVIEW

The Samurai Kids and Sensei are on their way to the hwarang training village in search of Pak Cho, Sensei’s former teacher.

At first, Kyung, the guide with the gun is determined to stop them, but he soon realizes that the travellers are more than a match for him.

In their latest adventure, Niya,  Kyoko, Mikko, Yoshi, Taji and Chen must help the hwarang warriors rescue the Nine Valleys from the clutches of the corrupt Provincial Governor and power hungry Hypo Moon.

In the process, they learn some valuable things about themselves, about patience and not judging too soon or too harshly.

Fire Lizard is the fifth book in the Samurai Kids series and just like its predecessors, it’s fast-paced with great characters and eloquent writing. Fire Lizard is narrated by Niya (whose spirit is the White Crane). He is the Samurai who can read Sensai’s thoughts and in this book, he comes one step closer to discovering his teacher’s secret.

This is another action-packed adventure for 9-12 year-olds. I love the uniqueness of the six Samurai Kids, each with their own individual strengths and weaknesses – each with a quality that is essential to the wellbeing of the entire group.

Sensei as always is full of wise words “Just take one step. Every journey begins with one step. No matter how long or hard the traveling is.”

Fire Lizard, like all the Samurai Kids’ books is beautifully illustrated by Rhian Nest James and has been meticulously researched.  Author, Sandy Fussell has impeccable attention to detail, and it’s this description of food, terrain and weather conditions that allow the reader to feel as if they are actually going along on this journey too.

Young readers have been eagerly awaiting the release of this fifth Samurai Kids’ adventure and I’m sure they won’t be disappointed. Fire Lizard is published by Walker Books.

FIRE LIZARD – THE LATEST SAMURAI KID’S ADVENTURE

Earlier this month, Fire Lizard, the much anticipated fifth book in the Samurai Kid’s series was released. I know my boys weren’t the only ones who were really looking forward to it.

Today, Sandy Fussell is back at Kid’s Book Capers to talk about Fire Lizard and how she created this fascinating book.

What inspired you to write Fire Lizard?

As the fifth book in a series, it has a life of its own. I don’t really have much control at all. It was inspired by a combination of the readers and the characters.

What’s it about?

Sensei travels to the hidden valley of the Hwarang warriors in the Kingdom of Joseon, to visit his old teacher, Pak Cho. Much has changed. The villages of the Nine Valleys are terrorised by a corrupt governor and his henchman, Hyo Moon. Pak Cho is blind and frail, but still a powerful man. Sensei and the Little Cockroaches escort Pak Cho through the now dangerous Valleys to deliver a warning message to the governor in Daejeon City.

What age groups is it for?

The Samurai Kids series has found an audience across a wide age group. Perhaps this is best indicated by its selection on the NSW Premiers Reading Challenge for Years 5 -6 and the VIC Premiers Reading Challenge for Years 7 -10.

Why will kids like Fire Lizard?

First and foremost, it is an exciting action adventure, a struggle between good and evil with a martial arts focus. It has a cast of familiar and new characters, a slash of humour, a little cultural mysticism and mythology and an unusual setting.

Can you tell me about the main character and what you like/dislike about him/her?

One of the interesting things about the Samurai Kids series is there is no main character and different readers attach to different favourite Kid. Even though one-legged Niya is the narrator in all the books, he doesn’t assume a driving role except in the first book, White Crane. A different character drives the story line in each book, but not in a sense that I would call them the main character. One of the ongoing challenges of writing Samurai Kids is providing balance between six main characters.

The Kids are so familiar to me that in any situation I know who would be flicking their rice across the room, who wouldn’t be listening to me, who is poking the kid next to him…

Are there any teacher’s notes, associated activities with the book?

The Samurai Kids series has a dedicated website www.samuraikids.com.au with a range of teacher resources – craft ideas, origami, reading notes, fact sheets, a one-act play, web quests and interactive quizzes.

Is there something that sets this book apart from others?

Each of the Samurai Kids books features a different Kid, a new location in their journey with Sensei and a new martial arts skill added to their repertoire. The story of Fire Lizard is driven by Mikko, who only has one arm and whose spirit guide is the Striped Gecko. This time Sensei and the Kids journey into the Kingdom of Joseon, now known as Korea. There they discover the elite Hwarang warriors, sometimes credited with developing the early techniques of tae-kwon-do.

What did you enjoy most about writing Fire Lizard?

I enjoyed exploring a new corner of history. I knew nothing about 17th century Korea and very little about its geography. I love the fact that each Samurai Kids book teaches me new things.

What was the hardest thing about writing this book?

Two things. It was much more difficult to find reference texts on Korean history than for my earlier settings of China and Japan and half-way through the story, the idea for Book 6 which is set on Cheju Island at the tip of Korea, began to push its way into my head. I wanted to get started on that and had to concentrate hard to finish Fire Lizard! I am easily distracted by the lure of a new story.

Tomorrow at Kids’ Book Capers, I’ll be doing a review of Fire Lizard. Hope you can join us then.

JAGUAR WARRIOR

Jaguar Warrior by Sandy Fussell begins with slave boy Atl imprisoned in a box waiting to be sacrificed.

When the Spanish invade a fast runner is needed to request help from the nearby city of Purepecha; Atl is released.

However, the Captain of the Temple Guard believes Mexica is losing the battle because Atl has not been sacrificed as promised and pursues him. Accompanied by two friends, Lali and Zolan, Atl races through the jungle. Unknown to him, the Captain is hunting not far behind. Atl must make the decision to run to freedom or to complete the task he has been given.

Sandy Fussell, the author of Jaguar Warrior has been fascinated by Mexica (Aztec) history, ever since she was a child.

It’s such a dichotomy – the advanced, intellectual society sacrificing people so the sun would rise. Mexica civilization is an interesting look at how different beliefs shape history. It’s always tempting to look back and judge based on what we know today or our modern day ethics and values. I wanted to put the bloodthirsty stereotype version of Aztec history into perspective for younger readers while using it as the historical backdrop for an action adventure.

Jaguar Warrior is for readers 9+. While it is set in a culture known for their bloodthirsty sacrificial practices,  Sandy says it is not a violent or gory book.

I am very conscious of historical context – the need to get the facts right and in perspective – as well as the age of my readers. This balance was one of the main challenges when writing the story.

The story seems to really resonate with young readers and I asked Sandy why.

Readers tell me the chase is very exciting. One reviewer thought the story was so action packed she compared it to an Indiana Jones plot! There are jaguars, crocodiles, ghostly figures in the mist, slave traders, ambushes and the ever present threat of being captured and returned to the Temple for sacrifice.

As a writer, I know I get very attached to my main character. I get to know them so well that they start to seem like a friend or even a family member. Atl, in Jaguar Warrior seemed very real to me, and Sandy obviously has a close affinity with him.

Atl has a lot to learn about himself and he’s not happy to listen to anything his companion, Lali, has to say on that matter. He thinks she is an annoying show-off. And sometimes she is but she is very smart. It hasn’t been easy living as a slave and Atl has to decide whether to put his freedom first or even whether he can be free if he runs away from helping Tenochtitlan. He can be pig-headed and stubborn. But he is loyal to his friends when he works out who they are, and that helps him make his decision.

THE RESEARCH PROCESS

The thing Sandy enjoyed most about writing this book was doing the research.

I discovered this wonderful book called The Broken Spears: The Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico by Miguel Leon-Portilla. It’s a collection of translated oral Nahuatl language accounts of the Spanish invasion – a perspective I hadn’t explored before. History is so often written by the victors and the Mexica people didn’t have a written language (although they kept hieroglyphic records) so it was the first real access I had to a native primary source. Plus some of the poetry is very haunting and beautiful.

THE HARDEST PART ABOUT WRITING JAGUAR WARRIOR

The hardest part was developing the reader relationship with the villain, the Temple Guard Captain, Huemac. I tell the story from two perspectives – that of the hero and the villain. I wanted the reader to know both equally well. But I wanted them to dislike Huemac intensely. And then, when I had achieved that, I wanted to turn the reader around and convince him/her to allow Huemac to be redeemed. (Which in Mexica culture meant to return to life for a brief period as a butterfly!)

Teacher’s notes and a web quest, Daily Life in an Aztec City are available on Sandy’s website www.sandyfussell.com

Tomorrow at Kid’s Book Capers, Sandy is going to talk us through the inspiration behind her much-anticipated fifth book in the Samurai Kids series, Fire Lizard.