Heart of a SamuraiInspired by the real life adventures of Manjiro Nakahama, Margi Preus has written a riveting historical fiction, filled with action, suspense and conflicting cultures. At the age of 14, Manjiro was a young teen living in a small Japanese village when he went to work on a fishing boat. On January night in 1841, his boat was caught in a terrible storm and the crew washed up onto a tiny remote island. After barely surviving on this rocky outcrop, Manjiro and his shipmates were rescued by an American whaling ship passing by. The American captain, John Howland, treats them with respect, but life aboard the whaler is not easy. Manjiro must learn English, try to understand the ways of the Americans, and earn the respect of both his Japanese crew and the American crew.
by Margi Preus
NY: Amulet, 2010
ages 11 - 14
available on Amazon and at your local library
2011 Newbery Honor Award
2010 Asian/Pacific American Award for Childen's Literature
I was fascinated by the tensions between the isolationist Japanese culture and the expansionist, nationalist American culture. Manjiro decided to stay with Captain Howland, effectively becoming his son and returning to Massachusetts with him. Preus helps readers think about what it would be like to be in Manjiro's situation, knowing his own people would not trust him if he returned after living with the Americans. He was caught between the two cultures, and struggled to establish his own identity, his own sense of who he was.
While the book has plenty of excitement and suspense to hook tweens, it's the growth and development of Manjiro's character that will stay with them. I was fascinated that this young boy who was supposed to be a simple fisherman and nothing more, ended up becoming so much more. This book will appeal to strong 5th grade readers as well as middle schoolers looking to expand their horizons.
If you would like another swashbuckling adventure, I'd recommend either Avi's The True Adventures of Charlotte Doyle or L.A. Meyer's Bloody Jack series.
The review copy was kindly sent by Amulet Books and Abrams. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion will go to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you). Thank you for your support.
Review ©2011 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.