This is based on a true story about a young Japanese boy and his companions who are shipwrecked on a Pacific island during the 19th century. Before Japan became open to the Western world, any Japanese citizens who left the country or had contact with an outsider risked death. When the group is rescued by an American whaling vessel passing by the island, Manjiro and his friends must choose whether to adapt to life on board ship with its alien language and ways or try to return to Japan. Manjiro chooses to stay with the American captain and experience life in New England while his friends are left off in Hawaii. The knowledge Manjiro accumulates during his years in the West stands him in good stead when he ultimately decides to risk returning to Japan in the hopes of reuniting with his family.
This book would be good for school units dealing with racial prejudice, life in 19th century America, or Japanese culture. Manjiro’s difficulties in the Western world are clearly depicted allowing the reader to feel empathy for him. The story is simply told and easily carries the reader along from each new event Manjiro experiences in his life. I greatly enjoyed this story; I was amazed at how Manjiro continued to learn while in a foreign land and then use that knowledge to improve conditions back in his home country. I especially liked the relationship between Captain Whitfield and Manjiro; the Captain was a strong, positive male influence that should appeal to many readers.
Age range: Fifth grade on up.
Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preuss. Abrams Publishing, NY,NY. 2010. 301pp.