cover image Black Belt

Black Belt

Matt Faulkner. Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, $16.95 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-375-80157-0

Bushi (Japanese for ""little warrior"") hopes to stay out of the way of the ""Bullfrogs"" (the tough big kids at his school), but an after-school confrontation during which Bushi splashes soda on a Bullfrog's uniform all but seals Bushi's fate. He flees and ducks into the nearest open door, which happens to be a karate school. Once inside Bushi spies a black belt and a sign explaining that it belonged to the Master, ""a small man with a big heart and the spirit of the tiger."" While trying on the belt Bushi trips and falls, hitting his head on the floor and tumbling into a dream world where he encounters the Master and other samurai. The lessons Bushi learns there about loyalty, courage and strategy inspire him to begin karate instruction in earnest, just as soon as he awakes from his reverie. Faulkner's (Jack and the Beanstalk) action-packed tale addresses the issue of how to deal with bullies by applying the philosophyDnot necessarily the movesDof karate. Detailed paintings in a style somewhat reminiscent of Japanese animation depict both contemporary and medieval Japan. Part Kung Fu, part Karate Kid, this should have a built-in audience among young martial arts enthusiasts. Ages 5-8. (May)