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Heart of a Samurai

Heart of a Samurai

4.2 29
by Margi Preus

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In 1841 a Japanese fishing vessel sinks. Its crew is forced to swim to a small, unknown island, where they are rescued by a passing American ship. Japan’s borders remain closed to all Western nations, so the crew sets off to America, learning English on the way.
Manjiro, a 14-year-old boy, is curious and eager to learn everything he can about this new culture


In 1841 a Japanese fishing vessel sinks. Its crew is forced to swim to a small, unknown island, where they are rescued by a passing American ship. Japan’s borders remain closed to all Western nations, so the crew sets off to America, learning English on the way.
Manjiro, a 14-year-old boy, is curious and eager to learn everything he can about this new culture. Eventually the captain adopts Manjiro and takes him to his home in New England. The boy lives there for some time and then heads to San Francisco to pan for gold. After many years, he makes it back to Japan, only to be imprisoned as an outsider. With his hard-won knowledge of the West, Manjiro is in a unique position to persuade the emperor to ease open the boundaries around Japan; he may even achieve his unlikely dream of becoming a samurai.

Heart of a Samurai is a 2011 Newbery Honor Book.

Accolades and Praise for Heart of a Samurai
2011 Newbery Honor Book
New York Times
NPR Backseat Book Club pick

"A terrifc biographical novel by Margi Preus." -Wall Street Journal


"It’s a classic fish-out-of-water story (although this fish goes into the water repeatedly), and it’s precisely this classic structure that gives the novel the sturdy bones of a timeless tale. Backeted by gritty seafaring episodes—salty and bloody enough to assure us that Preus has done her research—the book’s heart is its middle section, in which Manjiro, allegedly the first Japanese to set foot in America, deals with the prejudice and promise of a new world. By Japanese tradition, Manjiro was destined to be no more than a humble fisherman, but when his 10-year saga ends, he has become so much more."
--Booklist, starred review

"Illustrated with Manjiro’s own pencil drawings in addition to other archival material and original art from Tamaki, this is a captivating fictionalized (although notably faithful) retelling of the boy’s adventures. Capturing his wonder, remarkable willingness to learn, the prejudice he encountered and the way he eventually influenced officials in Japan to open the country, this highly entertaining page-turner."
--Kirkus Reviews, starred review
"Stunning debut novel. Preus places readers in the young man’s shoes, whether he is on a ship or in a Japanese prison. Her deftness in writing is evident in two poignant scenes, one in which Manjiro realizes the similarities between the Japanese and the Americans and the other when he reunites with his Japanese family."
--School Library Journal, starred review

"Preus mixes fact with fiction in a tale that is at once adventurous, heartwarming, sprawling, and nerve-racking in its depictions of early anti-Asian sentiment. She succeeds in making readers feel every bit as “other” as Manjiro, while showing America at its best and worst through his eyes."
--Publishers Weekly, starred review

"First-time novelist Preus turns the true story of Manjiro into an action-packed boy's adventure tale."
--Horn Book

Editorial Reviews

ALAN Review - Charles M. Owens Jr.
Stranded on an island with four companions in 1841, Manjiro's fate quickly changes as an American whaling vessel passes near their island and takes the castaways aboard. Over the next decade, Manjiro becomes a whaler, traveling extensively throughout the Pacific and the Atlantic; however, he yearns to return to his small village in Japan and eventually become a samurai. Manjiro's lifelong desire to become a samurai steadily guides his thinking, which allows him to make prudent choices in extreme nautical and interpersonal situations. But will his dream unlock a return path to his home? Preus peppers this novel with periodic drawings of aquatic life as well as drawings rendered by the historical Manjiro. The book's epilogue includes Manjiro's biography and definitions of some Japanese words. The novel's fast-paced action, illustrations, and historical details ignite the reader's imagination and leaves them wanting more adventures with Manjiro and more information about US/Japanese relations. Reviewer: Charles M. Owens, Jr.
Publishers Weekly
In picture book author (The Peace Bell) Preus’s excellent first novel, based on the true story of Manjiro Nakahama, Manjiro is 14 in 1841 when he is shipwrecked in a storm. An American whaling ship eventually rescues him and his shipmates, and while his fellow fishermen are fearful of the “barbarians,” Manjiro is curious about them and the world. Knowing Japanese law forbids him from returning home because he’s left the country, he learns English and whaling, gets a new name and family with the captain, and eventually seeks his way in America as the first known Japanese to set foot there. He finds innovative ways to challenge both hardships and prejudice, and never loses his curiosity. Preus mixes fact with fiction in a tale that is at once adventurous, heartwarming, sprawling, and nerve-racking in its depictions of early anti-Asian sentiment. She succeeds in making readers feel every bit as “other” as Manjiro, while showing America at its best and worst through his eyes. Period illustrations by Manjiro himself and others, as well as new art from Jillian Tamaki, a glossary, and other background information are included. Ages 10-14. (Aug.)
Children's Literature - Uma Krishnaswami
This book is based on the true story of Nakahama Manjiro, a Japanese teenager dubbed "the boy who discovered America." The year is 1841. Manjiro and his friends are caught in a storm and stranded on a desert island. Unable to return to their homeland, in time they are picked up by an American whaling ship. The text, squarely aimed at the young reader, follows the adventures of fourteen-year-old Manjiro as he forges a hybrid identity remarkable for his time and comes to be known as John Mung. He grows close to the captain of the John Howland, William Whitfield, and goes with him to Fairhaven, Massachusetts. School brings further trauma, the racism and bullying Manjiro endures rendering almost bearable the hardships he endured at sea. But the adjustment forms his character as well, and this account allows the reader to be privy to that switch in perspectives that comes from seeing a familiar landscape through another's eyes. The impact of one's viewpoint is something of a thematic element here: The Zen garden tracks of a snail in the opening pages create a path as delicate and beautiful as it is prophetic. Preus weaves history into the work in many small details of life on ship and shore. The cooper's shop and the daguerreotype maker's machine are drawn with the same fine care as the steel shaft of a harpoon in a sunlit whaling scene. Epigraphs from Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai add to the period feel. An intriguing design element is the use of original art, interspersed seamlessly with Jillian Tamaki's elegant drawings. Some of those historic drawings are by John Mung himself, and some are from the Hyoson Kiryaku, the record of his interrogation upon his return to the isolationist Japan of the time. Historical notes, a glossary, a bibliography, and a list of suggested readings comprise the book's backmatter. Reviewer: Uma Krishnaswami
School Library Journal
Gr 5 Up—Shipwrecked in 1841, 14-year-old Manjiro and his mates are rescued from a small island by an American whaler. Because of their country's strict policy of isolation, the Japanese fishermen are wary of their rescuers, but Manjiro is curious and wants to learn more about their language and customs. Eventually, he accepts the captain's offer to stay on the ship when it returns to America. He experiences prejudice and racism, as well as kindness and friendship in America. While he learns much in his adopted home, he still wishes to return someday to Japan. Based on a true story, Margi Preus's Newbery Honor title (Amulet, 2010) is skillfully narrated by James Yaegashi. With superior pacing and crisp pronunciation of Japanese names and words, Yaegashi creates an engaging listening experience. The action-filled scenes aboard whaling ships, as well as the everyday experiences on the farm in America, will hold listeners' attention. An author's historical note details fact from fiction in this inspirational, remarkable tale.—Amanda Raklovits, Champaign Public Library, IL

Product Details

Abrams, Harry N., Inc.
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range:
10 - 14 Years

Meet the Author

Margi Preus has written many popular plays and picture books for children. She teaches a children’s literature course at the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, Minnesota, where she writes for Colder by the Lake Comedy Theater and also watches for whales on Lake Superior. Visit her online at www.margipreus.com.

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Heart of a Samurai 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 29 reviews.
HomeSchoolBookReview More than 1 year ago
Did you know that for some 250 years into the middle of the nineteenth century, Japan was a closed society where no foreigners were allowed and any Japanese citizens who went abroad could be executed upon returning because people were afraid that they had been corrupted and might poison Japan's culture? The experiences and efforts of one young man helped to change all that. In 1841, Manjiro is a fourteen-year-old boy who lives near Shikoku, Japan. His fisherman father had died, and he is out on a fishing boat with four friends when a storm blows them to sea and casts them on a small, unknown island where they subsist until they are rescued by a passing American whaling ship, the John Howland, captained by the kindly Mr. Whitfield, who wants to adopt Manjiro. Renamed John Mung, Manjiro begins working with the whalers. The ship stops in Honolulu, Hawaii, where his four friends decide to stay, but Manjiro chooses to sail on with Captain Whitfield who adopts him to his home in New Bedford, MA, where he settles down on Whitfield's farm at nearby Fairhaven, attends both the Stone School House and Bartlett's School of Navigation, and is apprenticed for a while to a cooper, all the while facing prejudice from some. During this time he grows homesick for Japan, hoping that somehow he might be able to help the Japanese overcome their prejudice against foreigners. After shipping out on the whaling ship Franklin with the promise that he might be taken to Japan, which turns out not to be true, Manjiro, by then nearly age 24, travels to California to work the gold fields in search of enough money to finance a trip back to Japan. Will he make it? And even if he does, will he survive? Heart of a Samurai is a truly great historical/biographical fiction book for middle school age readers. The vast majority of the events and people in the story are real. The author says that some incidents and characters are fictional "to provide conflict and advance the story as well as to acknowledge the prejudice and ill will that Manjiro faced in a time and place where animosity toward Japan and its isolationist policies was in full flower." There is a helpful glossary in the back with Japanese words, whaling terms, and sailors' lingo, along with a bibliography for further reading. Many of the illustrations are those drawn by Manjiro himself. Anyone who is interested in Japanese culture, the history of whaling, or just a good, action-packed, adventure story will find this novel fascinating.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Read this book , it begs to be read.Wonderful tale heart warming, loving , and great. I think everyone should give it a chance.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
this book is the best book i have ever read i loved it it is funny and hartwarming i give it 5 stars higly recomended!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Cami Johnson More than 1 year ago
This is one of the best books ive ever read. Its the right amount of funny,heart-warming, and a must read. If you dont really understand the beggining then its hard to get the rest of the story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love this book, it really is a must read. The deatails are so intense you would think you were there. The author did a marvelous job and here other books are'nt half bad either… -Briana
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent read for both adults and children age 10 and up
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I havent read this book but it is a battle of the books book 2013 and i heard its good
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love this fricing book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book i haven fineshed yet but so far it is one of the Best books i have ever read i wish i could get it on my nook that would be verry helpful because i use it where ever i go and the paper back copy i have is due ak to the library soon but I LOVE this book its verry exsiting.
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Lawral More than 1 year ago
After being shipwrecked right at the opening of the story, Manjiro and his friends are rescued by the John Howland. The John Howland was a whaling vessel. It hunted whales for their blubber, baleen, and the spermaceti in the heads of the especially lucrative sperm whales. The descriptions of the hunting, killing, and butchering of the whales is not overly graphic, but as someone who grew up with an uncle down the street from Sea World (back when it was still an educational park rather than the kind of place that has roller coasters) and my own yearly unlimited pass, it was hard for me to read. But whaling is an important part of this book. It is Manjiro's quick thinking during a kill, along with his ability to quickly pick up the English language, that earned him his American name, John Mung, and a permanent place among the crew. At the end of the John Howland's time at sea, the captain even adopts Manjiro, now John, and raises him as his own, providing him with the best schooling Massachusetts could offer, an apprenticeship, and even his own pony. John's time in Massachusetts is fraught with prejudice. He's certainly not warmly welcomed by the whole of his new community. He faces taunts and bullying, and the captain and his wife even have to change churches twice before finding one that will accept their adopted son. John's maturity and nobility when dealing with all of this seems to stem from his desire to live up to all that the captain has given him. While this is wonderful and may even be true, I wish that John had more faults that just the propensity to bounce right off his pony. Throughout the book he has fears and hesitations and the story definitely has conflicts, but John Mung never really does. I didn't feel like he was a realistic character who showed growth as a person rather than a historical figure. But my biggest problem with Heart of a Samurai isn't a problem with the book at all; it's a problem with how it was described to me (and to everyone else on the front cover of the finished copy). Manjiro's life was clearly an adventurous one, but only because it actually happened. This is not an adventure book, and I think we're doing it and its readers a disservice by describing it that way. For an adventure book, it drags in places, like most of John's time in Massachusetts and the various points in his life when he's sitting around waiting to starve to death. The actual "high seas adventures" don't take up a lot of the text. Instead, it's rich with historical details and based on the life of a real mover and shaker in the international politics of the mid-1800s. Don't give this to your adventure lovers. Give it to your history buffs instead. Book source: ARC picked up at ALA
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I hated this book so much I cried
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I did not like it. Good story, but there is no details, and time moves by way too fast. It talks about when he was 15, then says he is 17, before the end of the thing happening when he eas 15. The story was ok, but not the rest.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is about a poor son of a fisherman with a low status in japanese society in the1800s but has always wished of becoming a samuria though he knows is not possible. Untill he is lost in a storm, after many weeks he is brought aboard a whaling ship and is brought to America where he learns about American society and culture and, upon returning to his country many years later he is interrogated and then told to tell of his time in America. After he is granted his wish to become what he has always strived for.