cover image The Secrets of Ninja School

The Secrets of Ninja School

Deb Pilutti. Holt/Ottaviano, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-62779-649-1

Ruby is one of several “saplings” learning the ropes at ninja school, but she’s far from stealthy, can’t land her flying jump kicks, and has trouble meditating patiently. Master Willow, her kindly teacher, knows that Ruby will uncover the “secret skill” that every ninja possesses. One night, when her fellow saplings get homesick, Ruby comforts them by using everything she has learned. Master Willow declares that Ruby has multiple secret skills: “You are a wonderful storyteller, a fine dragon maker, and a very good friend.” Pilutti’s story drags a bit, especially during a sequence in which Ruby’s memories of her family trigger the other students’ homesickness, but the artist’s gouache, pen, and ink illustrations are a treat, with aesthetics reminiscent of 1950s graphic design and animation. Inventive framings make every page a surprise: when Ruby confides her inadequacies to Master Willow, Pilutti (Ten Rules of Being a Superhero) has readers peer through the darkness into a lit room nestled among the school’s red-tile roofs. A craft project (a version of the stuffed dragon Ruby stitches for her fellow ninjas) is included. Ages 4–8. Agent: Jennifer Rofé, Andrea Brown Literary. (Mar.)