Heart of a Samurai

Heart of a Samurai

4.2 29
by Margi Preus
     
 

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A 2011 Newbery Honor Book

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 fourteen-year-old boy, is curious and eager to learn

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Overview

A 2011 Newbery Honor Book

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 fourteen-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 for some time in New England, 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 shogun to ease open the boundaries around Japan; he may even achieve his unlikely dream of becoming a samurai.

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

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781419702006
Publisher:
Abrams, Harry N., Inc.
Publication date:
01/01/2012
Pages:
336
Sales rank:
131,281
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range:
10 - 14 Years

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