Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus.
Amulet Books/ABRAMS: NY, 2010.
Newbery Honor Book 2011

This book went in a totally unexpected direction. That can be an awesome thing. In my mind, I was expecting training within Japan somehow to be a samurai. Instead, a historical whaling adventure enfolded. After being stranded on an outlying island, Manjiro and his fishing buddies are picked up by an American whaling ship. They travel for an extended time with the ship before making port in the Sandwich Islands (now Hawaii). Because Manjiro has shown an interest in learning and assimilating, the captain offers him a chance to visit the United States and pursue an American education. After years of training, he decides on a future course - to return to Japan and find a way to act as an ambassador, urging his country to open its ports to visitors and teaching his countrymen about American ways and technology.

As a story, it feels a little rambling and incredible. But the book is based on biographies of a real man's life and adventures. It sounds like it follows Manjiro's life fairly closely. Possibly the unbelievable feeling comes from the uncommon globe-traveling nature of the adventures and also that the 1840s are so different from our own time. Different enough to be incredible.

The book almost reads as separate stories with Manjiro acclimating to various settings. All with the same curiosity and zest for life. It was exciting to read the whaling portion - not at all the usual topic. It reminded me of reading Moby Dick, one of the books I loved reading in college, though obviously less verbose.

related-1840s New England, whaling, shipwreck, ships, Japanese and United States relations, California Gold Rush, Sandwich Islands, 19th century, Nakahama Manjiro, John Mung, biographical fiction
RL=4th and up

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