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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Dreamer and Explorer...

Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus

Fourteen-year-old Manjiro is full of questions, questions that irritate the elder fishermen. Manjiro must learn his place, but Manjiro dreams of one day becoming a samurai. That dream is impossible though, because he comes from a family of fishermen and that's all he thinks he will ever be.
It is 1841, and Japan is the greatest country in the world, so they say. Stories are told of the horrible beasts that inhabit the West. When Manjiro and his fellow fishermen are swept out to sea in a great storm, they are fearful of not being able to go home and worst of all...meeting the barbarians. They eventually are stranded on Bird Island, so named for the thousands of albatross that nest there. They are stranded on this island for six months, with no hope in sight, until one day a monstrous ship appears on the horizon. The barbarians have come.

Manjiro is more curious than afraid of these strangely dressed and unclean people of the John Howland. They are taken on board, but Manjiro's companions want nothing to do with these people who will corrupt thier ways. Manjiro soon joins the crew and finds out that the John Howland is an American whaling ship. Because he is different and speaks differently, there is prejudice on board; however, most become friends with him. His greatest relationship is with the Captain, who later becomes a father figure to him.

Manjiro travels to America to live with the Captain and his wife. There he meets even greater prejudice, but he has a samurai's spirit and forges ahead, eventually going to school and learning a trade. However, the sea calls to him, as does his homeland. Bound for home on another ship, he makes his way to the growing gold rush in California. From there, he makes his way home after ten years away.

Stepping on the shores of Japan and making his way home to his village is not an easy journey for Manjiro. It will be two more years before he's allowed home because he is a suspected spy. Still regarded suspiciously for the remainder of his life, Manjiro did become a samurai and was instrumental in bringing change to the very isolated Japan.

This is a great adventure from start to finish. The story is based on actual events about a boy named Manjiro, who grew up to be a samurai. He played a huge part in ending Japan's 250-year isolation, with his understanding of the West. His imagination and courage are what caught me the most. You can see the world as he saw it for the first time. Despite what his countrymen thought, he was able to see the world as a bigger, fascinating, beautiful place. My favorite line in the book is what he tells his mother as he gifts her with shells from all the places he's been. "These shells are like the people of the world, Okachan. They come from many different places. They come in many different colors and sizes. But they are all beautiful."


2011 Newbery Honor Award Winner
Ages 10+
Publisher: Amulet Books (August 2010)
ISBN: 9780810989818
Available as an eBook.

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