Why I Built This Kit
As a children’s librarian, I’ve had to handle a lot of children’s book requests over the years. In the past, when a kid asked me to recommend good ninja books, I’d be stumped. There just wasn’t a lot out there! Fortunately, and for whatever reason, we’ve seen a whole crop of fantastic ninja books springing up left and right. With the newest iteration of Teenage Mutant Ninjas Turtles, ninjas are hotter than ever before. With that in mind, here’s a ninja-related kit that explores not just the fabulous variety of ninja picture and early chapter books being produced, but also family activities, crafts, birthday party ideas, videos, apps, and facts about all things ninja.
Books Discussing This Theme
Wink, the Ninja Who Wanted to Be Noticed by J.C. Phillips
If there’s one thing a ninja is NOT supposed to do, it is to be seen. That’s where Wink sort of falls down on the job. An absolutely hilarious book that shows how individuality has a time and a place. Be sure to also check out its sequel Wink, the Ninja Who Wanted to Nap.
The Three Ninja Pigs by Corey Rosen Schwartz, ill. Dan Santat
Take one standard fairy tale. Add ninjas. Expect awesomeness. The beauty in this story isn’t the fact that it’s a familiar tale with a twist. It’s the excitement in the prose and Santat’s eye-popping, wonderful art. Be sure to also check out its companion picture book, the equally fabulous Ninja Red Riding Hood by the same team. Both books feature girls displaying ninja skills to beat the boys.
Nighttime Ninja by Barbara DaCosta, ill. Ed Young
There are nice ninja books and then there are gorgeous ninja books. This book would be in the latter category. Caldecott Award winner Ed Young applies his distinctive style to the nighttime escapades of one surprisingly young little ninja. This is a tale with a twist at its end!
Ninja Ninja Never Stop by Todd Tuell, ill. Tad Carpenter
Kids will love this book as it relates the adventures of a sneaky red-haired ninja (and his even sneaker little brother). Adults will love it for its stunning visuals. A great read aloud for a group as well!
Ninja! by Arree Chung
Comic book style panels and advice on how to be the world’s best ninja combine in this book by a skilled animator/author/illustrator. Be sure you also download this activity guide and these coloring pages for maximum ninja fun.
Dojo Daycare by Chris Tugas
Not every ninja is well-behaved or has yet learned the lessons of honor, kindness, and respect. When these little ninjas are dropped off at dojo daycare they wreck havoc with the place . . . until one of them teaches the others how a true ninja should act. The rhyming text is particularly keen and lends itself to reading to large groups.
The Legend of Ninja, Cowboy, Bear by David Bruins, ill. Hilary Leung
Three best friends (named in the title) get into a spat when they try to figure out who’s the best. For all his skills there are things a cowboy and bear can do that a ninja just cannot. Humility and respect are the watchwords of this particular book. Be sure to also check out the sequel The Way of the Ninja.
Dragonbreath: Attack of the Ninja Frogs by Ursula Vernon
For those kids ready for early chapter books, they’ll find much to love in Vernon’s series about a little dragon and his reptile companions. In this tale Danny Dragonbreath and his best friend Wendell try to save an exchange student from the grasp of a group of ninja frogs. Hilarity ensues.
Ninja Meerkats: The Clan of the Scorpion by Gareth P. Jones, ill. Luke Finlayson
A word of warning: Once your kids discover this early chapter book series about a secret ninja organization of well-trained meerkats, they may never give it up. In this book the meerkats thwart world domination, as per usual.
Real World Facts About Ninjas
What’s a ninja? – Ninjas were secret agents a long time ago in a country called Japan. They wore disguises and were great fighters.
Were ninjas real? – Absolutely!
What’s a ninja look like? – Real ninjas probably didn’t look like how we imagine them today. These days when we think of ninjas we think of people dressed all in black wearing masks that let only their eyes peek through. Real ninjas dressed differently but that’s no reason why you can’t wear all black if you want to be a ninja yourself!
- Are ninjas around anymore? – Not that we know of, but they were always very sneaky. Maybe there’s a ninja living in your neighborhood right now and you don’t know it!
Ninjas first appeared officially as covert agents in feudal Japan in the 15th century.
Female ninjas went by the name “Kunoichi”.
Why don’t we know much about historical ninjas? Because they were mostly recruited from the poor not much was written about them. The upperclass samurai got all the good p.r.
Many Japanese castles were designed to outwit ninjas. For example the Nijō Castle in Kyoto is constructed with long "nightingale" floors, which were specifically designed to squeak loudly when walked over.
Real ninjas were also masters of disguise. They tended to pretend to be priests, entertainers, fortune tellers, merchants, and monks to avoid detection.
Now you know the truth about ninjas. So what isn’t true? Check out the Top Ten Myths About Ninjas to complete your education.
Apps for Exploring This Theme
There are few things sadder in this world than a ninja with two left feet. In this game kids have to help Clumsy Ninja find his friend Kira. Fortunately, he can be taught (as well as customized and shared).
ABC Ninja (Ages 3-5)
The very popular app Fruit Ninja is fun but what if you could get the same rush AND learn something at the same time? Introducing ABC Ninja. Phonic sounds, different levels of difficulty, and ways to distinguish between capital and lower case letters are all covered here. The subsequent Sight Words Ninja is good for older kids as well.
We could stick with human ninjas, but why not shake things up a little and throw in a demented fowl with ninja-related intentions? In this game a funky little chicken sets out to prove to all the other birds that it really is the best ninja in the world.
The television show Ninja Warrior originally premiered in Japan. Since that time it’s been picked up by American TV as well. Recently Kacy Catanzaro has become the first woman to qualify for the finals of American Ninja Warrior. Revel in her skill here.
And for those of you interested in the first woman to win the Japanese version, that would be Ayako Miyake.
You can find plenty of videos of ninja arts on YouTube, but here is one of my favorites. This is the Bujinkan Sakki Test. In it, the student must “feel” the intention of the teacher and get out of the way before the wooden sword gets them on the head. These students are particularly good at the test.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
With the newest Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie on the horizon, do not forget that the very first film of the same green foursome came out in 1990. Take a trip in the way back machine and watch this film trailer.
Ninja Star Origami
Origami isn’t the easiest craft in the world, but some kids really get into it! In fact, origami has been proven to aid in building fine motor skills, geometric thinking, cognitive development, and it makes for a useful link to math in the symmetry of the crease patterns. Plus, manipulating paper with their hands may help children learn concepts that may otherwise be rather abstract. Make your very own ninja throwing stars with these step-by-step instructions and a helpful video here.
Self-Portrait Japanese Temari Ball (Ages 6 and Up)
How did ninjas entertain their kids? Possibly with temari balls. A folk craft from ancient Japan, today temari balls are given as tokens of good luck. They’re a great way to recycle or thread, lint, and/or yarn scraps.
Old sock or stocking cut off at the ankle
Large handful of dryer lint
About 30 yards soft yarn (scraps from knitting projects are OK)
1 large spool of thread
Craft thread or perle cotton
Assorted beads (optional)
- Start out by stuffing the sock with dryer lint. Pack it tightly. Wrap it with yarn, molding it into a ball shape by rolling it around in the palms of your hands. When you are done with that, wrap with entire spool of thread around the ball to cover the yarn layer. Don't wrap it too tightly because you will want to be able to stitch through the thread and yarn layers. This step takes a long time so take a break if you need to. Stop wrapping now and then to roll the ball around in your palms and push down any bumps.
- When you have about 24-inches of the thread left to be wrapped around the ball, thread the end onto the needle. Poke the needle randomly in and out of the ball to secure the end of the thread. When you reach the end of the thread, cut thread even with surface of ball.
- Now you can draw your self-portrait (or other design) on paper. You will want to use straight lines because these are easier to stitch than curves. Use different colors of thread to copy your drawing onto the ball by stitching out your drawn design. As a finishing touch, you can stitch beads onto your ball if you like.
From Family Crafts
Want to be a ninja as fast as can be? Created in tandem in the picture book Ninja! by Arree Chung (see above) you can go to Ninjafyme and upload a photo to turn yourself into an instant, honorary ninja.
Make an Instant Ninja Mask (For all ages)
The best part of this craft is that it doesn’t require any cutting! All you have to do is fold the t-shirt in just the right way. Just grab a black shirt and you’re ready to go. First put the shirt on halfway over your head, letting the collar rest along the bridge of your nose so that the shirt is covering half your head. Only your eyes, hair, and ears should be visible. Next, flip up the back of the shirt. Use both hands to pull up the back of the shirt from behind you. Pull it straight over your forehead, along the eyebrows. Now for the back. Gather up the loose sides of the shirt in your hands, along with the sleeves. Tie the sleeves at the back of your head, just at the nape of the neck. Don't tie it too tight, or you'll have trouble breathing. Tuck the mask into the collar of the shirt you are wearing to help hide the knot at the back. Definitely have a set of matching black pants and a shirt go to along with the makeshift mask.
This is a particularly good craft when your kid informs you in the morning that they’re supposed to have a costume for school that day. Or if you just want to engage in some creative ninja play.
From DIY Fashion
Ninja Birthday Party
What’s the only thing cooler than ninjas? Ninja birthday parties! Throw the perfect bash for your own little ninja using these cute and clever ideas.
- (Cardboard) Ninja SwordsThe favorite weapon of the ninja is the ninjato -- the sword of the ninja. And, these cardboard swords would be the favorite party favor for your ninja party guests! When cutting them out from cardboard or foam core board, just remember that ninja swords are thin, straight, short swords with long (two-handed) handles. Leave the cardboard "swords" blank and let your guests decorate them for a creative activity, with crayons, paints, glued on plastic "jewels," or ribbons.
- Ninja Party FavorsYou can use Asian restaurant take-out containers filled with Japanese treats and sweets for your ninja party guests (check your local craft or party store). These containers feature a special thank-you scroll, made with wooden dowels and rolled-up paper, printed with a thank-you message and tied with a silky red ribbon.
- Ninja PatchOnce your guests have proven themselves worthy (by participating in your party activities) make them honorary ninja with these homemade applique patches!
Ninja Party DecorNinja often dress in black -- the better to hide within the shadows. So black, white, and royal red are a popular color palette for ninja parties. Paper fans, swords, and geometric decor (as shown here) are great choices for your party decor. Also, look for paper lanterns, bamboo place mats, plastic swords, and wooden chopsticks (kids love learning to use them!) at your local dollar store.
Ninja Party Nunchuck (Desserts)Nunchucks are a most dangerous weapon, and if you haven't trained enough, they can be as dangerous to yourself as they are to your opponent. Are these chocolate-cake-roll-and-red-licorice "nunchaku" dangerous for your ninja party guests? It may take extra training to be safe, so you better make extra -- just in case. Luckily, making them is as easy as can be! Just unwrap store-bought cake rolls, and connect two of them with a licorice whip.
All ideas are from: http://spoonful.com/parties/ninja-party-ideas
Suggested Family Experiences
Ninja Cowboy Bear
Inspired by the similarly named book by David Bruins (see above) this is like a full body version of Rock, Paper, Scissors. To play Ninja Cowboy Bear all you need to know is Ninja beats Cowboy, Cowboy beats Bear, and Bear beats Ninja. These kids can show you how it’s done.
Ninja Obstacle Course
A ninja must always keep his or her body in perfect shape. With that in mind, a creative family can certainly turn any playground into a ninja obstacle course. When approaching the park, figure out the order in which each family member needs to “complete” their training. Time each person as they scale playground equipment (kids can use stairs, parents can’t), climb through tire swings, walk up slides, scale bridges, and reach the end of the course.
A mere playground not cutting it for your little ninja? Well, a true ninja never picks up a weapon, but if they’re looking to improve their sneaking and running skills why not find the nearest laser tag locations. Perfect for birthday parties or family outings, it’s as much fun as paintball without any of the mess!
About Betsy B.
Betsy is currently New York Public Library’s Youth Materials Collections Specialist. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, reviewed for Kirkus and The New York Times and has also written the picture book Giant Dance Party, illustrated by Brandon Dorman. In 2014, Candlewick will publish Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Children's Literature which she co-wrote with Jules Danielson and Peter Sieruta. You can follow Betsy on Twitter @FuseEight or at her blog A Fuse #8 Production hosted by School Library Journal.