About the book
In a fantasy version of Meiji-era Japan, the country is in a constant state of change and chaos with the coming of the Black Ships and the opening of Japan to the rest of the world. It was a time when anything could happen, and probably did.
On the southern island of Kyushu, two children who can turn into birds live with their adopted human parents. An evil feudal overlord kidnaps Azuki for the valuable white and orange feathers she sheds when she is a Toki-bird. Her courageous father dies trying to prevent her capture. With the help of the local birds and animals, her mother sets her free, but is also killed by the overlord’s men. With her parents dead at the evil overlord’s hands, a heartbroken Azuki flees. It’s all her fault! It’s her ridiculous ability to turn into a Toki-bird that caused everything horrible to happen! She destroyed her human family. Maybe she’ll do better as a bird. She’ll join her Toki-kin and give up being human at all. That will make things better. Won’t it?
Shota, her brother, can turn into a sparrow, but nobody’s interested in his plain brown feathers. The best he can do is follow his mother’s directions and rouse his own bird-kin to help his sister fly free. But his mother is hurt! She is dying, and Shota can’t think about anything else. But before she dies, their mother tells him all is not lost at home or in the human world for either of her children. She will do whatever she can to help them, living or dead, and she makes of Shota a final request. Shota speeds after Azuki to tell her that they will lose their human inheritance and won’t be able to live in human society at all, ever, unless they return in time to claim it, and return they must, honoring their mother’s wishes. Shota plans to bring Azuki home whether she likes it or not. She is his sister! They must stay together! There must be a way for them to embrace their heritage, all of it — didn’t their mother tell him so?
In her desperate search for her Toki-kin, Azuki visits egrets who send her off to the major Toki nesting grounds on Sado-ga-shima, far from their Kyushu home. On the way to a place she doesn’t know, unsure of her welcome, and with no clear directions other than “north and east”, Azuki weathers storms, encounters a fierce mountain ogre, and befriends a dragon who also has a secret. Will she ever reach her goal? What will she find when she gets there?
Shota, smaller and slower, doggedly follows the directions from the egrets. In a dream, his late father comes to give him help in his quest to track his sister and bring her home. Shota thinks he knows where Azuki is going, but it’s far from a sure thing. She could join other Toki, she could make a wrong turn, she could give up the idea and do something else! Can he find her? Will he reach her in time? Even if he does, can they possibly get back before the deadline? He is helped on the way by sailors, finding in himself a love of the sea, makes a friend of a war-horse, earns some gold, and just maybe discovers a way to get them back in time to claim their human heritage, so they can live as themselves, even if that isn’t like anybody else.
Magic and mystery surrounds the story. I have longed to read a book which has magical creatures that can turn themselves into humans and an animal form at will.
Azuki and her brother Shota are two magical children who have the power to change into a Toki; according to Japanese legend Magical Toki is a bird who can also change into human form and back to a bird at will and Shota also a magical bird who like Azuki can turn into a human and a sparrow.
Azuki constantly shed beautiful feathers which her father Hachibei used as fabric and the family became prosperous. Azuki was a household name and she was readily accepted in the society until one day a greedy Sheriff wanted to use Azuki to perform in his circus and captured her. Azuki’s father tried to protect her but was killed by the Sheriff.
Her mother and his brother devise a plan to free her from the clutches of the Sheriff. In the process of freeing Azuki, her mother was also killed.
Now her brother sets in a journey to find Azuki, who went in a journey to find a new home with other Tokis. Shota is following his sister to bring her back to their home before the equionox before the Sheriff declares both of them dead, as instructed by his dying mother.
The book has a gripping storyline and after a very long time I read a book full of imagination and magic. It is must for kids who will love the magical worlds that the story has. As more and more magical creatures are introduced in the story you will fall in love with the story plot. The background of the story is set after the Japanese were attacked at the Hiroshima and Nagasaki and trade routes were closed for the west.
Magic and imagination has a perfect blend with the growing western culture in the Japanese society gives a perfect picturesque to the story, as if reality and magic are walking hand in hand which enhances the beauty of the story line making it easier for the young readers to relate the story in detail with the real world. I have already narrated the story to many of my friends at work and will narrate it to kids who will love to listen as their bedtime stories.
About the author
Claire Youmans is an accomplished adult non-fiction and mystery writer who has also written and edited innumerable articles, engaging audiences for over 20 years. With a deep love for Japan and its culture, Claire has traveled there extensively studying the country's culture and folklore.
While working on a play produced in Tokyo, The Great Grateful Jizo, Claire was so inspired by two minor characters -- Azuki, a Toki-Girl, and her brother, Shota, a Sparrow-Boy -- that she expanded their story into The Toki Girl and the Sparrow Boy. With generous doses of adventure, suspense, folklore and fantasy, Claire has brought their visually compelling story into book form.
The Toki Girl and the Sparrow Boy (2014) is the first in a series of books recounting their adventures. The Toki Girl and the Sparrow Boy, Book Two: Chasing Dreams was released in June, 2015. Book Three, Together, was released July 4, 2016. All three books are garnering great reviews and an expanding readership. People -- including and maybe especially adults -- love them. Reminiscent of Jonathan Livingston Seagull and Watership Down, The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy series addresses real-world issues in a context of the history, culture and folklore of Japan. With further books in development, Claire returns to Japan often for more inspiration and motivation to bring that nation's beauty and culture to life for readers with stories that people love to read.
Read more about the book at Online Book Club