In the world of the ninja, reaching the level of Jōnin signifies the most elite, wise, and stealthy of warriors. While we can’t confirm that author Tim McCanna and illustrator Stephen Savage are experts in kaginawa or shuriken, the duo has collaborated on a new children’s book which displays the finest of storytelling and visual skills.
Written by Tim McCanna with illustrations by Stephen Savage, the two have achieved Jōnin status with Jack B. Ninja, their newly released story which uses classic source material to create a vibrant adaptation.
The origins and meanings of nursery rhymes are often shrouded in mystery. James Orchard Halliwell, a nineteenth-century scholar was well known for his writing about Shakespeare. In addition, he possessed a special interest in English nursery rhymes. Some scholars believe the famous “Jack Be Nimble” rhyme was based on the real-life “Calico” Jack Rackham, a pirate captain who escaped from capture for decades before he was captured and subsequently executed in 1720. McCanna has re-imagined a well-known nursery rhyme as ninja fantasy and offers the high-spirited quest of a problem-solving protagonist.
McCanna, whose previous children’s book titles include Bitty Bot, Watersong, and Teeny Tiny Trucks, writes crisp and playful text that effectively demonstrates problem-solving skills applied to joyful challenges — all of which are evident in this new release. The Jack B. Ninja storyline serves as a proponent of both self-discovery and individualism while also highlighting the importance of family as a support structure. In addition, McCanna employs a gratifying “surprise” ending (it wouldn’t be ninja-like to include a spoiler here) to this new telling.
Stephen Savage’s illustrations incorporate lush and bold figures and line movement while remaining clean and minimalist. The visual world is vital to the playful and resplendent world of this book. Savage, a BFA Illustration faculty member at School of Visual Arts in New York City since 2001, has written and illustrated a collection of exciting children’s books, including the Where’s Walrus series, Supertruck, and the recent Little Plane Learns to Write. He has also illustrated Polar Bear Night (written by Lauren Thompson) as well as The Fathers Are Coming Home by Margaret Wise Brown (author of the iconic Goodnight Moon).
“When I started out, I didn’t really know if I was more of a words person or a visuals person,” Savage told us in a 2016 interview. His work demonstrates a mastery of both.
“Authors write a book but don’t get much of a chance to hear what goes on between parents and kids,” added Savage.
So, in order to articulate the true spirit of this Jack B. Ninja, it may be best to quote from one of the book’s earliest fans. My son, who consistently has McCanna and Savage on his “heavy rotation” reading list, has requested the book nightly since we brought it home soon after the June 26 release. “I want to be Jack. B. Ninja for Halloween,” says this author’s 4-year-old son. (Full disclosure: his name is Jack, which likely contributes to his enthusiasm).
Jack B. Ninja features two of the finest children’s book authors/illustrators creating today. McCanna and Savage have provided a story that inspires children to think bravely and enjoy the journey while doing so.
And, to be honest, who doesn’t want to be a ninja?