CM . . . . Volume XX Number 3 . . . . September 20, 2013
Julie Black Belt: The Belt of Fire is the sequel to Oliver Chin's Julie Black Belt. In this new installment, Julie is once again eager to prove herself as she sets her sights on achieving her next belt in Kung Fu. The arrival of Brandon, a new student in her class, puts a damper on her eagerness, however, as she finds herself feeling threatened by his skill level. When Julie is assigned Brandon as a practice partner, she panics at the thought of working with him. She tries to imagine what her hero, Brandy Wu, would do, but it doesn't really help. The two partners get off to a shaky start, but a visiting teacher, Master Zhou, helps them along, teaching them that "Kung fu means strengthening your own discipline and ability. Concentrate on improving yourself and not on impressing others." The two learn to work together as a team, both improving their skills in the process as they achieve their goal of attaining their orange belts.
Fast paced and engaging throughout, Julie Black Belt: The Belt of Fire will hold the attention of young readers. As with the first book, Charlene Chua's illustrations are bright, cartoon-like feasts of colour that invoke a sense of movement that will keep young eyes flowing from page to page. Sequences depicted as scenes from the Brandy Wu movie Julie is watching at different points in the story have borders made to look like film edging, creating a rather enchanting feeling of watching a movie inside a book.
The character of Julie continues to give young girls a strong female protagonist with which to identify. This is further enhanced this time around with the introduction of Master Zhou. When Julie first learns that the Kung fu master is coming for a visit, she automatically assumes it will be a male teacher. It's a nice surprise to learn that the master who taught Sifu everything he knows is actually a woman. The character of Master Zhou serves to both further explore aspects of Kung fu and to provide young girls with yet another role model.
The feelings of envy and uncertainty that come with meeting someone new will be familiar to most readers and will provide teachable moments for parents and teachers. The similarities between Julie's dilemma and similar problems encountered by "Jade Crane" in the movie Julie is watching are obvious to the adult eye but will be a new idea to readers in the target audience and should provide yet another interesting discussion point.
Once again, Chin has provided young readers with a fun, informative and interesting story that should engage even the most reluctant reader while providing a rich source of information and thought-provoking concepts.
Liane Shaw, a retired teacher and a YA novelist, lives near Renfrew, ON.
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