cover image The Ninjabread Man

The Ninjabread Man

C.J. Leigh, illus. by Chris Gall. Orchard, $16.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-545-81430-0

A sensei bakes a gingerbread cookie treat for his animal pupils, but the ninja cookie who emerges from the oven has other ideas, as every fan of this cumulative tale knows. In Leigh’s pseudonymously written version, the Ninjabread Man runs toward, rather than away from, the other characters, challenging each one to a fight and winning (“Try, try as best as you can, you can’t beat me, I’m the Ninjabread Man!”) until a fox dispatches the cookie by maintaining his meditative cool. Leigh’s story is at its best when it’s taking advantage of the comedic disconnect between action-movie seriousness and yummy baked goods, which extends to both the narration (“Suddenly, a sweet scent filled the night air. Danger was near”) and dialogue (“Ninjabread Man!” shouts Ninja Bear. “You will make a mighty morsel!”). Gall’s (Little Red’s Riding ’Hood) flat compositions, rendered in muted tones, don’t really tap into the humor to the same degree, though, and the cast of animal martial artists (which includes both panda and snake characters) can’t help but feel like a Kung Fu Panda redux. Ages 3–5. (Sept.)