The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy Series (7 Books) by Claire Youmans

Splendid, nuanced, and unfailingly entertaining middle-grade read….

Part history, part folklore, and part fiction, Youmans’s vivid, deeply intriguing, and seemingly small story of a sibling pair, children who can turn into birds, tells a much larger tale of the Meiji era Japan.

The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy, the series kickoff expertly sets the stage for upcoming adventures of the sibling pair, Azuki and Shota. Wealth and luck bestow Chizuyo and Hachibei after arrival of their daughter Azuki, a Toki bird who can turns into a human child. The family becomes complete after Shota, a Sparrow bird that can turn into a human child, joins as Azuki’s younger brother. But Azuki’s precious feathers get the family into trouble after Hasegawa Genmai, Hachibei’s friend and a malicious overlord, decides to get Azuki for himself to procure her valuable feathers. With their parents killed, the siblings are separated, but they must return home or risk losing their ability to live in human society forever. Azuki and Shota are back home, dreaming about living peacefully in the human world in the second installment. But among the chaos and uncertainty of the war, the siblings are forced to live with a traveling monk Yuta as a boy acolyte and a pet sparrow. Discovery of a precious asset forces the trio to visit the capitol and relay the information to the properly appointed Lord Eitaro. But the malicious DaiTengu wants Azuki’s feathers for its wind-making fans. The life has become normal once again for the sibling pair in the third installment. Azuki and Shota are finally content living with Uncle Yuta. But when Azuki suddenly becomes ill, Shota sets out to find Tsuruko, the legendary Crane-girl, hoping she could help Azuki. Renko, the Dragon Princess, is torn between fulfilling her parents’ opposing wishes. Meanwhile, there is trouble brewing in the sea in the form of the Umi-Bozu patrol. Uncle Yuta’s life has become extremely complicated with everyone dual-natured around him in the fourth installment. If being dual-natured is not difficult enough, Azuki, Shota, and Renko are growing fast and with that becoming a challenge to deal with. And Japan is evolving as well: with changing time, the country is ready to introduce a new system of education. Yuta must prepare himself to guide his family through the storm of change. In the fifth installment, Youmans takes readers on Uncle Yuta’s newly married bride, Noriko’s journey as she settles in her new home, surrounded by plenty of dual-natured children while trying to unravel the hidden secrets of her past. The Dragon-sisters Renko and Otohime’s destiny may lie among their ability to come to terms with their dual-nature after twist of fate leaves them drained of their powers in the sixth installment. In the seventh installment, Youmans introduces new characters as Azuki, Shota, and Renko struggle to adjust as dual-natured people in an ever-changing Japanese society as Japan sets on to embrace Western ideas and technology, including education in order to compete in the civilized world.

Full of grace and distinctive imagery, Youmans’s storytelling is articulate and suave. She’s deft at portraying relationships and inner thoughts and skillfully digs into her characters’ turbulent psyches. With their lives caught between two worlds, the siblings struggle to adjust as dual-natured people. She makes their emotional turmoil, inner conflicts, pain, heartaches, and desires both deeply affecting and intimate, giving ample voice to their hardships as well as their accomplishments. Azuki and Shota both have their own struggles, and although Shota makes for a memorable character, it’s Azuki who steals the show. With her quick wit and big personality, Azuki commands the spotlight. Despite her inner conflict that arises from her being a dual-natured person, she never has problem finding her own voice. The story’s chief appeal lies in Azuki, Shota, Renko, and various secondary characters’ ability to shapeshift. Youmans skillfully explores the vast changes in Japanese society that lead to the country’s embracing of Western education, leaving readers with lots to ponder. The children’s dangerous quests as they face malevolent enemies and perilous circumstances give the fantastical spreads breathtaking drama and splendor, while their resilience in the face of difficulties conveys the message of the importance of summoning one’s own power and never losing hope. Generous doses of cultural insights and the people’s ways of living throughout bolster this fascinating, engrossing tale of dreamy derring-do. Youmans’s descriptions of landscapes are poetic, and the worldbuilding nuanced. Egrets, mountain ogre, dragons, Tengu, the bird-humanoids, various types of bird-children, the outcasts, and bandits in the middle of all the uncertainty and chaos of the Meiji era Japan come out alive, leaving readers feel exhilarated. As the children grow old, so does the nation. Youmans’s smoothly paced narrative and crisp prose keep the pace quick, while the mix of folklore, Japanese culture, and traditional way of living help the story feel both fresh and timeless. And just like the traditional folklores, Azuki and Shota’s tale is as much about journey as it’s about destination. Though, there are pains and heartaches, the overall story is lighthearted. Dominated by rich warm tones, the accompanied interior art, the Japanese Woodblock Prints which are contemporary to the time in which the stories take place, is exquisite. With its soothing and magical quality of a fairytale, the artwork seems at par with the timeless subject matter. Youmans is a natural storyteller who’s created a vibrant and cinematic series that young readers are going to love. This is a must-read for middle graders.

The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy Series (7 Books)

By Claire Youmans

Buy now

The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy: Book 1

Price $5.99 (USD) Kindle edition, $14.99 Paperback

Chasing Dreams: Book 2

Price $5.99 (USD) Kindle edition, $14.99 Paperback

Together: Book 3

Price $5.99 (USD) Kindle edition, $14.99 Paperback

Uncle Yuta Has an Adventure: Book 4

Price $5.99 (USD) Kindle edition, $14.99 Paperback

Noriko’s Journey: Book 5

Price $5.99 (USD) Kindle edition, $14.99 Paperback

The Dragon Sisters: Book 6

Price $5.99 (USD) Kindle edition, $16.99 Paperback

The Eagle and the Sparrow: Book 7

Price $6.45 (USD) Kindle edition, $14.99 Paperback



Categories: Children's Fiction, Middle Grade, Series Reviews

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