MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK
“Cowabunga!” I jump out from behind the credenza, blocking my mother’s path as she walks by with a stack of mail.
“Derek! You have to stop scaring me!” She sprints across the room to pick up the envelopes falling to the floor.
Ever since my friends and I were lucky enough to test the Arctic Ninja video game for Global Games, we’ve been obsessed with ninjas. The game took place in the Arctic but my friends and I live in Los Angeles, so the climate is a lot different.
Mom tries to reach a stray paper that fell underneath the couch. “I’m pretty sure cowabunga is a surfer word and not a ninja war cry.”
My bewildered mother doesn’t realize it’s also Michelangelo’s catchphrase from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Lately my friends and I have been moving away from turtle culture to REAL ninjas. And that means reading a lot of graphic novels from Japan.
With my reading disability, longer books can sometimes be difficult so I like novels with lots of illustrations. I’ve been drawing my vocabulary words since elementary school and always look for a way to connect words to pictures.
When Mom suggests watching a martial arts movie after dinner, I jump at the chance. Literally.
My dive from the pantry to the couch spills my mom’s paperwork all over again.
But stopping is the last thing I’ll do.
In fact, I’m just getting started.
My Ninja Friends
Because Matt, Umberto, Carly, and I are equally consumed with the world of ninjas, we check out martial arts classes to take together. Carly did the research, of course, looking for the closest school with the best program.
“There’s one in Santa Monica with a famous sensei.” She turns to me. “Sensei means ‘teacher.’”
“I KNOW WHAT SENSEI MEANS! Just because I’m not a good reader doesn’t mean I’m stupid.”
Carly rolls her eyes. “I’m not saying you’re stupid. I just didn’t think you knew Japanese.”
Matt comes to my defense. “Derek eats sushi, doesn’t he? Of course he knows Japanese.”
The day hasn’t even started and already Carly’s had it with Matt and me. Umberto pulls up in his wheelchair just in time to change the subject.
“Did you hear Ms. McCoddle’s looking for a volunteer to run the class play?”
Carly’s ears perk up. If there’s ever a chance to impress a teacher or get extra credit, Carly is first in line. She asks Umberto for details.
“All I know is, this year’s theme is the American Revolution and Ms. McCoddle’s searching for a director.” Umberto pops a wheelie in his chair. “I wonder if colonists had wheelchairs back in the seventeen hundreds.”
We argue about that for several minutes—Carly and I say no, Matt says yes—until it’s finally time for class.
Sure enough, Ms. McCoddle brings up the play as soon as we take our seats. She talks about what a great schoolwide event it will be while I draw ninjas in the margins of my notebook. (My favorite is a miniature ninja hiding behind a pair of salt and pepper shakers.)
Ms. McCoddle seems more relaxed than she was when Matt and I first had her in kindergarten; now she’s one of the most respected teachers in our school.
“I’m not looking for someone who’s directed a play before,” Ms. McCoddle continues. “Just someone passionate about history.”
In the time it takes for me to draw a mustache on my ninja, Carly’s raised her hand. Ms. McCoddle is used to Carly signing up for everything, so she scans the room first to make sure she’s not leaving anybody out. But with Maria absent, Carly’s the only one in class remotely interested in directing a history play and she gets the job.
Matt and I skateboard home after school and look up the martial arts school Carly found online.
“It seems too tame,” Matt says. “I was hoping for something more ninja-y.”
I click on some other schools that have classes in the area. “How about this one?”
Matt lets out a long whistle. “The Way of the Thunder Shadow. Now THAT’S what I’m talking about.”
When Dad gets home, I ask if he can take us to check out the martial arts class tomorrow. He marks it on his phone calendar and says sure.
My dad’s been much happier since he started working again. After being laid off from his job as a storyboard artist for almost a year, he finally started doing artwork for a guerrilla marketing company. At first I thought it was GORILLA marketing, which would be awesome, especially if we could introduce our capuchin monkey, Frank, to a real gorilla. But it turns out my dad’s company does groundbreaking advertising campaigns instead—much less fun than hanging out with gorillas.
Matt and I search for the video controllers, which we finally find wedged between the cushions of the couch.
“You know it’s a matter of time before Carly ropes us into helping her with that play.”
Matt nods as he loads the latest version of Rayman. “We’ll be too busy spying on people and practicing martial arts to help,” he answers. “Real ninjas don’t have time to paint scenery for a play.”
He’s right, but I also know Carly can be very persuasive. I hope this doesn’t come down to choosing between two of my best friends.
Text Copyright © 2017 by Janet Tashjian
Illustrations Copyright © 2017 by Jake Tashjian