Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus

I loved the main character in this book!  The fact that he was a real person made it even more interesting.  Apparently this was a Newbury Honor book and deservedly so.  It is written for 10-16 year olds but I enjoyed it too and so did my 10 year old.

 Manjiro was just a 14 year old poor fisherman living in Japan in the mid-1800's which was a time of extreme isolation for the Japanese.  They did not allow foreigners in their country and if someone left Japan, he was not allowed back in.  The people of Japan were taught that everyone else were barbarians so when Manjiro's fishing boat is shipwrecked on a deserted island during a storm, things seemed pretty hopeless for the fishermen.  They were starving when the American Whaler happened upon them.  Manjiro's companions were very distrustful of the American's but Manjiro was bright and curious and determined to learn as much as he could.  He had always felt that he was a samurai deep down inside even though his background made becoming a samurai impossible.

After a couple of years at sea, the whaler returned to New Bedford, Massachusetts.  The captain of the ship had come to love Manjiro and took him into his home.  It was the first time a Japanese person had set foot on American soil.  Manjiro went to school and tried to fit in but found it difficult.  He was not always accepted.  He managed to learn much and made many friends but when he had the chance to work on another ship and possibly return to Japan, he took it.  He had missed his family greatly.  Upon returning to Japan he was put in prison until the Shogun recognized his worth. 

Apparently the book is quite faithful to the actual events of Manjiro's life and even includes drawings made by him and a picture of him.  I thought that his life was fascinating and highly recommend this book!  There was some violence that might not be appropriate for younger children.  Rated PG.

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