Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus

“‘I guess you’ll never become a samurai now, huh, Manjiro-chan?’

‘Why not?’ Manjiro asked.

‘Even if we should get home, you know very well you can’t be.  You weren’t born into a samurai family.  You were born a fisherman’s son, and you will be a fisherman, and any sons you have, they will also be fishermen.  That is the way it is; that is the way it always has been; that is the way it will always be.'”

Fourteen-year-old Manjiro wants to be a samurai, but in nineteenth-century Japan, there is no changing one’s family job.  Fishing is his destiny, even if he wishes for more.  However, when Manjiro and his fishing mates are stranded on a deserted island, and then picked up by a whaling ship, he finds more adventure than he could have imagined.  There is a great price, though:  even though he will travel the seas and live in America, he will never be able to return home.  The custom in Japan at the time was to remain completely isolated; no foreigners are admitted, and citizens who leave may never come back.  Though Manjiro has ten years of adventures, including panning for gold, learning to make barrels, horse racing with his classmates, and living with his adoptive family,  he simply longs to return to his home and his blood family.  Will he ever find his way home again?

This Newbery Honor book has the distinction of being based on a true story: there was a real Manjiro, who was really picked up by the John Howland, an American whaling ship.  According to Margi Preus, Manjiro was the first know person of Japanese heritage to reach America!  Included in this book are actual sketches of his, and some real words from his diaries.  I enjoyed the factual aspects of the story, especially such an intriguing and unusual one.  Younger readers will appreciate the beautiful black and white illustrations, and the detailed historical notes, glossary, and explanations of the Japanese calender and time systems will please teachers.  This book seems made for the classroom!

Happy Reading!

Preus, Margi. Heart of a Samurai. Amulet Books: New York, 2010. 301 pp. Ages 10-14.

I’m sorry, the author’s website does not seem to be up and running right now! I’ll keep checking and bring you the link when it is.

If you liked this book, more great historical fiction awaits! Try One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia, Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer Holm, or Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis.