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Heart of a Samurai

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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 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.

305 pages, Hardcover

First published August 1, 2010

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About the author

Margi Preus

25 books172 followers
Margi Preus is a children's writer. She is a 2011 Newbery Honor winner and won the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature for Heart of a Samurai.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,013 reviews
Profile Image for Yumi Learner.
285 reviews18 followers
February 8, 2015
My Fifth Book in English This Year

I just finished reading my fifth book in English this year and it's "Heart of A Samurai". It's a story about John Manjiro who landed in the States as the first Japanese person. It was so interesting for me to read the book because I could learn history both of America and Japan.

Manjiro was born in a poor family as a fisherman's son. He started working for his family since he was 8 years old. He didn't get any chance to go to school. When he was 14 years old, someone asked him what he wanted to become in the future. He answered he wanted to become a Samurai.

His life was very interesting to read. He was a sport of fortune, but he had never given up making his dreams come true. As the result he became a Samurai and a professor of our highest level of university, Tokyo uni. Of course many factors helped making his dreams come true; a period, people, his Japanese family, his American family, his friends or whatever. This book gave me good motivation to keep on studying English to make my dreams come true.
Profile Image for The Shayne-Train.
363 reviews90 followers
April 7, 2015
When reviewing books that I read to the little one, I usually take her closing thoughts as the basis for my rating. This time, it was: "I liked that one. A lot. I liked the stuff about whaling. And the stuff about people all being beautiful no matter what color or shape they are."

Now, me, I've always been a sucker for a well-written "fish out of water" story, and that's exactly what this is. A young Japanese fisherman gets shipwrecked in the 1840's and is rescued by an American whaling boat. He learns the whaling trade, but it's more about him learning about America. Or, more specifically, about "the way white people is."

Anywhoo, I don't spend a lot of time reviewing the kids' books I read, but this one is worth it.

Profile Image for Set.
1,560 reviews
November 8, 2022
I usually read female POV during medieval times but I rather enjoyed this male first person POV during early America. The story is fictional but based on the account of the true story of Nakahama Manjiro. During those time, Japan was closed off to foreigners, no one in or out. Any Japanese person that left Japan and got close enough to the "barbarians" were imprisoned and put to death. Manjiro's story starts when he along other Japanese fishermen became stranded at an island and were rescued by American fishermen. He was a boy at the time of the shipwreck and he would play pretend that he was a samurai; hence the name of the book. After being rescued by Americans, he became close to the captain of the whale hunting ship and was eventually adopted by him. In America, he went to school and learned the American way of life and all the prejudices that excised during that time. He always longed for the sea and eventually went back on the sea adventure, a voyage back home. This is a medium length chapter book with a few classical oriental illustrations.
Profile Image for Heather.
1,249 reviews53 followers
July 9, 2022
2011 Newbery Honor
2010-2011 Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature (children's literature)

In Heart of a Samurai, Margi Preus tells a fictionalized story of Manjiro, a Japanese teen who, with four fishing companions, became shipwrecked on a rocky island and was rescued by an American whaling ship in the mid-1800's. Save for the addition of a couple of characters and some little details, the story is mostly true. Manjiro journeys to America as the adopted son of Captain Whitfield, learns English, and gains knowledge of American life and seafaring. He goes on to play a key role in the opening of Japan to the West and the dawn of the Meiji Era.

The book was pretty well-written, especially for a first novel, and I liked the addition of illustrations, many of which were drawn by Manjiro himself. The author included extensive glossaries for the Japanese language and whaling terms she used in the book, along with sources under different categories such as Manjiro himself, whaling, and the Gold Rush.

Manjiro's story is a fascinating one, but there were some things about the book that annoyed me, particularly in the first half. The author has Manjiro calling his friend Goemon "Goemon-chan." To be honest, I don't know how people referred to each other in 19th century Japan, but today, "chan" is an honorific used only for very small children or girls. No teenage boy would be caught dead being called "chan," especially by a younger friend. Manjiro would say "Goemon-kun," or even more likely "Goemon-san" since Goemon was older than him.

I also didn't get a good sense of the full disgustingness of life on a whaling ship. It felt like the author was holding back in her descriptions. She did include what it was like to kill a whale and have blood all over the deck, but she then romanticized the seafaring experience quite a bit when focusing on Manjiro's love for life on the sea. If I'm remembering right from my visit to the whaling museum on Maui, living on whaling ships was absolutely hideous. Disease was rampant. The author mentions scurvy, but doesn't give us a good picture of how serious it was. I always remember the little "medical kit" that I saw in the whaling museum... basically, there was no doctor on a whaling ship, but whoever could read and follow instructions the best would do whatever the writing in the kit prescribed for their crew mates, which was often either ineffective or horrible. The stench of a whaling vessel went beyond "stinking" or "smelling bad"... I don't necessarily mean that the author needed to be gruesome, but it would have been nice to have some extra realism there.

Further, this passage on p. 85-86 really rankled me (in the context of Manjiro watching the Hawaiians dance the hula, which missionaries didn't want them to do): "Western missionaries had come to Japan, too, a couple of hundred years earlier, and they were one reason Japan had closed its doors to foreigners. Seeing how the native islanders here were expected to change almost everything about their lives for the missionaries, Manjiro could understand why Japan had expelled them." That whole statement is irresponsible and historically inaccurate. It implies that Japan expelled the missionaries because missionaries were forcing the native Japanese to adopt their ways. In reality, Japan expelled the missionaries because one of the daimyo had converted to Christianity and the other daimyo were afraid that all of the Japanese Christians would follow him, making him too powerful. It was a political issue that culminated in the Shimabara Rebellion, not a religious issue. Many Japanese peasants were overjoyed to convert to Christianity, since the missionaries taught them that they were all equal in the eyes of God, giving them a sense of worth and value that their strict hierarchical society never could. I'm sure this also felt threatening to the higher classes, who wanted to keep peasants in their place.

Hundreds of thousands of Japanese Christians were tortured and murdered for refusing to publicly apostasize because of how much their newfound faith and value meant to them. To say that they were "expected to change almost everything about their lives" as though Christianity were something bad that they were forced into is insulting to their memory and, if I'm not mistaken, shows bias on the part of the author, not Manjiro. The casualness with which Preus describes Manjiro and his companions trampling on the fumi-e when they return to Japan completely glosses over that whole part of Japanese history (not that the three had converted--the story never said they did, but Preus also never explained the significance of it very well).

I found that I was bored during Manjiro's time in America--since the author added Tom's character herself, I'm not surprised that this section didn't seem to fit with the rest of Manjiro's story. The school tale and racing of the horses and whatnot really dragged the plot down. Preus could have shown more briefly that not everyone in America welcomed Manjiro and it would have been fine.

Some of the ways that Preus chose to spell Japanese words also annoyed me. "Arigato gozaimus"--bleh. I can hear the awful American accents in my head... Ah-ree-GA-toe go-ZAI-muss. Why not just spell it the way it's properly transliterated and make it "arigatou gozaimasu"?

I don't mean to sound arrogant, but I think I know too much about the Japanese language and Japanese history to have been able to completely set those things aside and just enjoy this book, which is a shame, because it is a great tale and the author obviously worked hard to research it. Manjiro was an amazing person, and having been an American in Japan, I feel a sort of kinship with him.
78 reviews2 followers
August 10, 2010
When I first saw the cover of this book I was extremely excited. I was thinking, a book about a Samurai!! I’ve always been intrigued by stories that deal with warriors.

Although Heart of a Samurai didn’t deal with the Samurai aspect as much as I’d hope for, it concentrated on something better. Going after what you want and believing in yourself even when no one else does. Seeing the main character struggle for so long to go after a goal, as well as see the results (whether good or bad) was a huge encouragement to me. There’s always something happening in people’s lives where a person may believe in something that nobody else supports. But sometimes we have to support ourselves.

Heart of a Samurai included a lot of things that actually happened to the real life Manjiro. Because it included so much of his real life while still being a fictional book, it was easier to learn more about him than if I’d read his biography (without reading this book).

Since it was a quick read, none of the educational parts seemed overbearing. By the time I got to the end where there was a glossary of Japanese words as well a short explanation of what really happened to Manjiro, I was anxious to learn more. This was a very quick and educational read. Anyone can read this but I hope that a lot of middle schoolers read this. It could possibly give them an example of how a book can teach you something important while not having to hammer points over and over.
Profile Image for Judy.
3,096 reviews54 followers
March 1, 2019
A pleasant surprise! After storing this book on a shelf for a couple of years, I finally decided to read it. Here is adventure, history, and an intriguing young man who traveled the world on a whaling ship. I hope I will remember his name, Manjiro (John Mung).

The book is well-designed; it captures the feeling of another time, another place. Some of Mung's illustrations are used to illustrate the text.

If I could get my father to read this book, I think he'd enjoy it.

Preus is to be commended for taking the facts and turning them into an engaging story.
Profile Image for Wendy.
951 reviews137 followers
December 29, 2010
Delightful throwback of a book, like something I would have read in the fifties--I mean, if I'd been alive in the fifties, so, like a soft, faded, library-bound hardcover I would have taken out in the eighties, only to see it disappear a couple of years later when everything was modernized.

Not to say that it is too old-fashioned. I think this book is good enough and fast-paced enough to be interesting to modern children. I know kids in my classes would have enjoyed it if they'd been forced to read it.

Illustrations are simple and perfect for the book, some drawn by the subject and some drawn by a period Japanese artist. So pleased the publisher let them get away with that.

The Newbery canon is full of books about sailing and I'd be happy to see this one join the ranks.

It does have one of the dumber historical notes I've seen. I accepted while I was reading it that some kind of author's note would not be out of place--there's all this complex nautical and cultural stuff. I actually really liked the "Environmental Note" about the whales and albatrosses; it's short and interesting and well-written, and probably let the author feel like she didn't have to include a Green Message within the pages of the book, which would have been out of place. But the main historical note is pretty much just a summary of the book, since the author seems to have done a great job of including real events and people. I don't think I needed to know that two minor characters were made up, and I think why she included them is pretty obvious without being stated. Why not just say "With the exception of Jolly and Tom, this book is based on the real life of Manjiro"? Why, authors and editors and publishers, why?
Profile Image for Lauren Stoolfire.
3,568 reviews259 followers
November 6, 2020
I'm so glad I picked up Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus. I wasn't at all familiar with the real life Nakahama Manjiro before reading this YA historical fiction adventure about his early life and experiences, but it certainly makes me want to learn more. I do wish that the novel would have been cut down into smaller parts of his life rather than covering as many years as it does because quite a bit does seem rushed especially near the end. As someone who has been studying the Japanese language for years, it's always interesting to see how the language is presented in an English novel for those who aren't familiar with it going in. One thing that irked me, though, is that Manjiro calls his older friend Goemon "Goemon-chan". Maybe honorifics were different in 1840s Japan, but now the "chan" honorific is used with little kids and girls, not older teen boys. If anything, he probably should have referred to him as "Goemon-kun" or "Goemon-san" instead.
Profile Image for Jessica.
Author 31 books5,632 followers
January 1, 2018
Absolutely fascinating! I love Margi Preus' books, and how she blends real history with a great narrative, and this was no exception. I really loved the real sketches and pictures in this book, too. I knew of Japan's centuries old isolation, but I did not know that the first Japanese person to see America, and one of the first Japanese to be allowed back after having left Japan, was this young man, Manjiro. What a fascinating life!

I picked this up in the library (though I have been meaning to read it) because my 13yo needed a survival story for a book report. He loved it, too!
Profile Image for Erica.
361 reviews4 followers
April 12, 2023
I read this book for a monthly challenge and really enjoyed it. I didn't know much about Japanese history during the mid 1800's. It was interesting to see Americans through the eyes of a Japanese boy and especially his struggles with the English language and how so many words can mean the same thing. I liked that it was based on a real person and that the author stayed pretty true to what really happened to him, with a few things added here and there.
Profile Image for Book Concierge.
2,768 reviews332 followers
November 1, 2019
This young adult novel is marvelous work of historical fiction based on a real person. Manjiro was only 14 when he left his small village intent on getting food for his family. Setting out with some local fishermen they were caught in a storm and wound up on a deserted island. Ultimately rescued by an American whaling ship, Manjiro became the captain's favorite, due to his enthusiasm and willingness to learn, and was renamed John Mung.

I really liked this book and how Preus explores prejudice and intolerance, as well as the gifts of curiosity, eagerness to learn and being open to new experiences. The Japanese empire was a closed society for over 200 years, not allowing any foreigners on its soil, and even going so far as to ban any Japanese who had left Japan from returning, lest they were “contaminated” by foreign thought, mores, practices and culture. Imagine the terror the fishermen feel on discovering that their rescuers are “blue-eyed devils!”

Of course, that prejudice goes both ways. Some of the sailors aboard the ship are equally wary of the Japanese “savages.” They’ve heard their own horror stories and believe the Japanese would kill and eat them.

The novel details Manjiro’s adventures which took him to America, on several sea voyages, and ultimately back to his native Japan where he helped usher in a new era of tolerance towards foreigners and witnessed the end of Japan's 250-year policy of isolation. Several of Mung's drawings depicting whaling, and life in America and Japan in the mid-19th century are included.
Profile Image for Jabiz Raisdana.
335 reviews75 followers
November 20, 2014
A solid well-written book that should appeal to any middle school reader. This adventurous historically fictional tale has something for everyone. A nicely paced novel that literally spans the globe. You won't want to put it down.
Profile Image for Union County Library.
331 reviews28 followers
March 3, 2022
Based on the life of Manjiro Nakahama, Heart of a Samurai is a gripping adventure that keeps you turning the pages. At age 14, Manjiro leaves his home in Japan on a fishing boat to become stranded on an island. From there his life unfolds. Manjiro goes from being rescued by a whaling ship to living on a farm in America, to then working to find his way home back to Japan. An amazing story that shows the effects of the 250 year period of isolation in Japan's history. Anyone that enjoys stories with a grand adventure will love this book.

- Reviewed by Nate G.
Profile Image for Carrie ReadingtoKnow.
383 reviews23 followers
February 27, 2023
This was my Sunday afternoon read and I absolutely loved it.

It's a middle grade reading adventure based on a true story. The writing is easy and interesting. I knew little to nothing about Japanese history and enjoying discovering a wee bit about it.

A clean Middle Grade fiction read, it's a fantastic book for boys, especially. (But this mom enjoyed it quite well.)
Profile Image for Jan.
808 reviews28 followers
July 23, 2016
I’ve been sitting here for almost an hour writing my thoughts about this book, all of which I just erased. None of what I wrote sounded like me. I was trying to write something terribly witty and profound, but that’s not me. So……..here's my not witty or profound thoughts.

Heart of a Samurai is historical fiction, or maybe I should say historical/biographical fiction since the author noted that it is based on the life of a real person, real events, and a real time in history. One of the things that I love so much about historical fiction is that I am finally learning all this history that I previously had no knowledge of and now find so fascinating. I actually hated history when I was in school. All we did was memorize dates and the presidents in order. At least that’s all I remember. I was so bored. If you gave me a history book to read I would find it dry and boring and be asleep after the first page. But now after reading this book I know that for 250 years Japan was a closed society where no foreigners were allowed and that any Japanese citizens who went abroad, or even past a certain distance from Japan could be executed upon returning. Japanese children were taught that Westerners were blue-eyed demons and barbarians. When Manjiro and his friends are rescued by the American whalers they find everything about them strange-their bizarre way of sitting on chairs with their legs swinging under them, eating with a fork instead of chopsticks, and their strange clothing with buttons and pockets. On the flip side the whalers viewed Manjiro and his friends as pagans and cannibals and spies. One of the things that I appreciated most about Heart of a Samurai is that neither side was portrayed as being right or wrong, but showed us that people from both cultures at times need to work at understanding each other's perspectives.

What I loved about Manjiro was that he dared to dream of a life different from the one he was born into. Captain Whitfield explained to Majiro that America is the land of opportunity, where men can fulfill their hopes and dreams. In Japan, Manjiro had never thought about such things; if your father was a fisherman, you too, were a fisherman, and so it went, from generation to generation. Manjiro constantly asked questions and was interested in everything. He wasn’t afraid of new people, new experiences, or even a new way of life. He was the kind of student we all love having in our classrooms. He loved to learn and was like a sponge soaking up every bit of knowledge that he could.

I loved that the author included a very helpful glossary in the back with Japanese words, whaling terms, and sailors' lingo. It really helped me understand many of the book's references. I think anyone who likes historical fiction or is interested in Japanese culture, the history of whaling, or just a good, action-packed, adventure story will find this novel very interesting.
Profile Image for Jonathan Peto.
252 reviews46 followers
August 6, 2014
This book is based on the life of a historical person, a shipwrecked Japanese fisherman who was adopted by the captain of an American whaling ship in the 1840s. Interesting, right! He eventually returned to Japan with knowledge of the outside world, knowledge of English, and practical knowledge of subjects like navigation.

The author of Heart of a Samurai seemed to face a similar challenge as Pam Munoz Ryan, the author of Riding Freedom: a long, complicated life to dramatize but a minimum amount of space. Maybe it is almost impossible for this particular story to be mashed into a single YA book. I just know the story did not draw me in well enough, despite the incredible potential of the material. Manjiro found himself in a situation that must have been mind-blowing, yet I did not really feel it, on the whaling boat with Westerners or when they came to New England. I relished the opportunity to return with him to Japan after nearly a decade, to imagine what he must have seen and felt, to just soak it up, but those chapters were brief, too brief to be anything other than a sketch or an outline.

Maybe each of these momentous shifts in his life really needed a separate volume to really do justice to his voice, to the setting, to the story.
Profile Image for Loredana (Bookinista08).
606 reviews216 followers
June 30, 2016
Poate dacă aș fi citit această carte acum 15, chiar și 10 ani, i-aș fi dat 5 stele cu felicitări. Dar așa, fiindcă sunt ceva mai trecută prin „viața” cărților, nu-i pot da decât 4. Până voi apuca să-i scriu o recenzie de sine stătătoare, trebuie să știți că mi-a plăcut extrem de mult și că o recomand din tot sufletul copiilor și tinerilor care nu au uitat ce înseamnă să visezi și să speri la o lume mai bună. Mi-a plăcut foarte mult și faptul că se bazează pe fapte reale, dar recunosc că și personajul principal, Manjiro, mi-a făcut deliciul lecturii. Mi-a plăcut la nebunie personalitatea lui și felul în care reacționează atunci când viața îi pune în cale diverse obstacole. De asta și ziceam de copii și tineri... Manjiro este un exemplu demn de urmat, mai ales fiindcă a existat în realitate și a reușit să creeze o punte între două națiuni care până atunci nici nu și-ar fi închipuit că ar putea colabora vreodată.
Review soon to come.
Profile Image for D. B. Guin.
825 reviews69 followers
June 21, 2021
This was an... interesting read.

First of all, the illustrations and historical photos included are fabulous. I also love that it's based on a true story that I'd never heard of before. Fourteen-year-old Japanese boy gets shipwrecked and rescued by Americans in the mid-1800s? That's a fascinating story.

The execution was a little odd in several ways, though. It's written very young, and given the depths of emotion involved in the many intense things that Manjuro goes through, it comes off a little shallowly at times.

Manjuro's starry-eyed America!!!! attitude when he's only had a short time to process that he may never see his home and family again seemed kind of unrealistic to me. Maybe he truly felt that way, especially since he played a role in persuading the Japanese government to open the country later on. (I'm sure Commodore Perry's fleet's guns had an influence as well.)

And then there's the whaling. Manjuro is disgusted by the violence and waste involved, but it's also romanticized throughout the whole book in a ~~~the wild freedom of sailing the great ocean~~~ way. It was pretty interesting to read in the historical note that Manjuro, when he did get home, started the whaling industry in Japan, especially since the Japanese are notorious whalers to this day. I guess we played ourselves?

Overall, kind of an odd experience to read given the multiple unaddressed ironies. I'm not exactly sure what message a kid with no context would take away from this.
Profile Image for Laurie DelaCruz.
262 reviews5 followers
June 2, 2023
What a great read! I have never read anything about Japan in that timeframe, so it was fascinating to learn about a culture so far removed from my experience. The author did a wonderful job of voicing this character, to the point of feeling the war within him between longing for his home and yearning for knowledge.
Profile Image for Anna Mussmann.
422 reviews68 followers
April 2, 2020
There’s a lot to like about this novel. It follows the remarkable, true story of a young nineteenth-century Japanese fisherman who was shipwrecked, rescued by the crew of an American whaling ship, adopted by the captain, educated in America, and eventually made his way back to Japan--where he was imprisoned and interrogated for a year-and-a-half because of his foreign contact. Soon after his release, he was summoned to advise the authorities on their response to Commodore Perry.

The book is smoothly written and easy to follow. Amazon lists it as teen fiction, but the feel of the book is solidly middle grade.

Somehow, I didn’t connect with the narrative as strongly as I would have liked. For one thing, the protagonist doesn’t change and develop as much as I felt he would have in real life. In addition, I think the author is so focused on making the point that, deep down, human beings are the same everywhere, and that no one culture is superior or inferior to another, that she skims right over several opportunities to explore cultural values in greater depth.

For instance, although Manjiro, the protagonist, is very attracted to American freedom and individualism, he eventually hears some American girls laughing at the thought that he could be seriously considered a romantic prospect for his American crush. He is immediately disillusioned with America:

“Americans had their blind spots, and Manjiro had been blind himself not to see it. He sat for a time, staring out at that churning green sea, as tumultuous as his feelings. He began to see all the ways Americans were not so wonderful. They could be greedy; they thought a lot about amassing wealth. Some of them kept slaves! . . . . And even those who didn’t keep them seemed to think that black-skinned people were not as good as they were.” From this point on, he wants to go back to Japan.

I can easily believe a young man would long for his homeland and his family. Yet considering that a return to Japan involved giving up the benefits of a free country (in Japan, Manjiro’s life and freedom were dependent on the whim of the authorities, and he was actually never fully accepted back into society), the author should have attempted to examine both cultures more deeply instead of blithely saying, “Well, both are flawed!” At the very least, she should have shown us the strengths of Japanese culture that might have made their system seem worthwhile to a boy who’d lived in America. Or perhaps it would have served the same purpose if she had given us more insight into how Manjiro felt about his homeland once he returned.

It feels very in-line with a certain, shallow kind of modern American outlook to essentially say, “Anything that makes America free or special is clearly worthless if America retains any moral flaws!” That’s incomplete reasoning. I mean, it’s also true that no man is perfect; but I would much rather be married to some of them than others.

I also had to raise my eyebrows over a brief passage asserting that Japan expelling Christian missionaries and banned Christianity because the bossy missionaries wanted the Japanese to "change almost everything about their lives."

Overall, this is the sort of novel that is so well-done, in some ways, that I really wish it had been even better. I might have enjoyed it more if I had been reading it aloud with a group of kids who found it really engaging. It's one I might check out from the library if we were studying this time period in our homeschool, but I'm unlikely to purchase it.
Profile Image for Ruby.
8 reviews
February 22, 2011
Fourteen-year-old Manjiro is full of questions, questions that the elder fishermen he is with get irritated with. 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 ever be.

It's 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 get stranded on Bird Island, so named for the thousands of albatross that nest there. For six months they are stranded on this island 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.

Eventually he comes 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'll be two more years before he's allowed home due to suspicion as a 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. 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.
Profile Image for Enrique.
55 reviews23 followers
May 24, 2017
There are many other wonderful reviews of this book which reference in depth its content. Thus, I will limit myself, as much as possible, to my personal reaction. This is a fictionalized account of the exceptional early life of John Mung, Nakahama Manjiro. Manjiro was a 19th Century Japanese fisherman who at the age of 14 shipwrecked on an uninhabited island off the coast of Japan and was soon thereafter rescued by an American whaler. For reasons explained in the book, it took Manjiro 10 years to return to Japan. This book is about those 10 years in exile and their immediate aftermath after he returned to Japan.

It would constitute great fiction if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s mostly true. There’s an author’s note at the end which filters facts from fiction. These fictional elements, far from superfluous, serve to anchor the narrative in the prevailing culture of the time thereby nicely rounding it up.

I tore through this book in 2-3 days. It’s a veritable page turner. Granted, it’s a book for kids: the typeface is larger, it’s full of illustrations, and the prose, for the most part, is straightforward and simple. Still, I fully and wholeheartedly recommend this book to anybody who’s looking for a great read, not just kids.
Profile Image for Heather.
461 reviews35 followers
October 16, 2018
Heart of a samurai review

I think that this book is very good.
It is a good novel for readers.
I am very glad that it turns out well.
I hope that you would like it too.
411 reviews
April 8, 2020
Enjoyed this! Can’t believe it’s a true story. Listened to it and the narration was great.
17 reviews
February 11, 2015

Margi Preus’ partly fictional story, Heart of a Samurai, first takes place on sea where a 14 year old boy, Manjiro Nakahama and his crew mates went out to the sea. From the beginning of the book, the author shows how Manjiro is struggling to survive and take decisions and ask lots of questions due to his curiosity and as his father died when he was really young. A huge storm blew them towards an island and they got shipwrecked on the island and they were stuck on the island hoping for help. After a few months, passing by the island, an American ship rescued them from the island. This is where I feel the book suggests the idea of taking big risks that may have unknown consequences which may or may not cause effects on the character changing his lifestyle.

For example, on page 22, after seeing the passing by American ship we can see his thinking in this long sentence. “Two small boats moved towards the island. Manjiro’s heartbeat deep in his stomach. His already weak limbs felt numb.The world began to spin again and he thought he might faint. “Boats!” he croaked. Finding his voice he shouted “Rescue!”.” This line shows us that Manjiro is willing to take risks whether they may pose threats to him. Manjiro and his friends swam towards the boat and the sailors helped them get up onto the deck and seeing their hairy beards and their big faces, Manjiro fainted. In this case it lead me to understand that this decision could be consequential. Once Manjiro woke up he got a sudden realization of their on the so-called ‘barbarians’ boat; “When he returned he said “Manjiro-chan, aren’t you afraid? Don’t you worry what they will do to us?”. Here in this quote, Preus shows us how scared Manjiro and his friends are of the barbarians as they believe the so-called ‘barbarians’ will be eaten by these ‘barbarians’. Margi Preus also shows us how Manjiro is willing to stay calm and fearless about the current situation they’re stuck in. In the coming few pages, Preus shows us that Manjiro is willing to learn their language, English so that he can communicate with the ‘barbarian’ captain and was hoping to continue with them. And soon he hopes to talk to the captain about his home country Japan to hopefully see his mother again. But, there was a catch. One of the crew mates on the ship didn’t exactly like him.

As the book goes on about Manjiro’s life on the boat, there came a time when he finally he decided to talk to the captain, Captain Whitfield, about how he wanted to go back to Japan to reside with his family and friends. Sadly the captain explained to Manjiro about how he couldn't go back to Japan as the Japanese fear that anyone who leaves Japan will be poisoned by the outsiders world and will have a big influence on the people of Japan, therefore outsiders and anyone who leaves Japan will be executed or punished if they arrive in Japan. As Manjiro listens to the Captain, Preus shows us how shocked Manjiro is after hearing that he cannot go back to Japan. I feel Manjiro is in a state of depression as his dreams of meeting his family and friends are crushed and the possibilities that he could meet his family were none. Hence Manjiro is faced with the only one decision which is to stay on the boat with Captain Whitfield and head of to America where he fears he will be bullied, and laughed at due to the differences. But this small sentence shows how Manjiro will benefit from going to America; “You have no childrens; I have no father. Manjiro said, and their eyes met for a moment.”

On page 58, it’s stated that one of the crewmates aboard the ship, Jolly had a disliking for Manjiro and would possibly kill him. This quote proves some of the evidence. “ “You!” Manjiro said forgetting his fear of the burly man. “I save that food for my family.” “There’s no point to do that,” Jolly snarled, the toothpick still clenched between his teeth. “Ye’ll be b e whistling up a wind of ye think ye’ll ever see yer family again.” Here it proves that he is not completely safe from the ship. I also see preus’ is using a bit more of a faster repetition as it seems as though the story was moving a bit faster. This made me realize that when your heart tells you to do something, you must do it and it may or may not have consequences. In this scene it proves later that Manjiro's decision was very important for his future.

Another example, on page 74 is when Manjiro was given a choice to go to America with Captain Whitfield or over time go back to live in Japan with his friends. This means if Manjiro decided to go to America with Captain Whitfield, he would possibly never see his friends again and maybe never see his mother again too. Manjiro again took a risk and chose to go to America with Captain Whitfield. He mainly did this so that he could know how it felt to have a father and learn english and how the western world works. While many people would believe that Manjiro stopped caring about his mother and wanted to start a new life the quote here clearly states he doesn’t; “To see America.. but to possibly miss a chance to return home to his mother and his family. To learn a thousand new things, but to go to a strange place where people might hate and reject him.” This decision made me understand that Manjiro was a very curious boy who wanted to learn about his surroundings and what happens outside his very country Japan. In this scene, the story was going really slow as Manjiro was expressing all his feelings for his home country Japan, but arguing with himself about going with captain Whitfield.

In addition, Manjiro doesn’t want to go to America as he was wondering what his mother and siblings would be thinking about him. When I was reading from “But then he thought of his mother, and how worried she must be. Perhaps she thought he was dead. Had she hear what happened to him?” on page 77, It struck me that Manjiro was on a very serious decision which seemed to me to have consequences whichever side he decided to go to. If he went with Captain Whitfield, he would learn about the outside world and learn what it feels like to have a father but he would most likely be laughed at as his appearance and is communication skills are very different from the kids living in America. But he would really miss his mother and his siblings. If he went back to Japan over time, he would be happy to be with his family but would regret learning about the outside world. Finally he chose to go to America with Captain Whitfield as he hope that time would take him through America and back to his country Japan. He also went so that he would learn more and bring back more to his family in Japan.

In conclusion, Manjiro took through two huge risks that changed his life forever. Both of these decisions were both good and bad. His decisions proved mainly beneficial and luckily none of this proved very consequential . His decision for the first scenario, where Manjiro took a risk of heading to a passing by american ship and ask for help from these foreigners proved successful as these foreigners helped Manjiro and his friends with what looked like their last breath. But on the other hand,the second scenario had mixed consequences. This decision did not majorly affect Manjiro as going to America gave him a new hope which consisted of a new mother and a father as well as a new opportunity to learn english so he could communicate better with this new world. Likewise attempting to head back to Japan could’ve probably got him killed which is a very significant consequence compared to going to America. Although he may have got a chance to see his mother and his siblings for one last time before being executed. Hence meaning that different decision we take may turn out to be a good decision or a poor decision which may have consequences and they could be both be beneficial or unsatisfactory.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Rebekah Morris.
Author 116 books219 followers
March 10, 2022
Very interesting story. I’ve never heard of Manjiro Nakahama and this story pulled me in from the first. It was different reading about a Japanese boy who didn’t know about America since Japan was a closed country then. The story was well written and the notes in the back about what was real and what had been added made this even better. There are some descriptions about killing whales since Manjiro is on a whaling ship for a time, but they didn’t get too descriptive.
It was a clean read and I wouldn’t hesitate to hand it to others.
Profile Image for Elizabeth.
106 reviews
November 26, 2019
Excellent! I enjoy stories like this—based on the life of a real person but written in a novel like form. Highly recommend! Written more for a middle grade/teen audience, but I as an adult enjoyed it very much.
61 reviews
August 22, 2017
This was such a nice read.
I loved the writing, the way the author described the surroundings and the characters.
The plot was interesting, there was a moment i felt like it made no point to the story, but i end up enjoying this book so much.
Profile Image for Linda Martin.
Author 1 book70 followers
February 6, 2022
This is an excellent, wonderful adventure story based on the life of Manjiro, a Japanese man. At the age of 14 he was shipwrecked with three others during a fishing expedition, then rescued weeks later, starving, by a group of American men from a whaling ship. They took the stranded Japanese men to Hawaii, and . . . well, I'll leave the rest for you to discover in case you haven't heard of Manjiro before.

I very much enjoyed reading this book and it reminded me of how much I love adventure stories. I read it because it was a Newbery Honor Book in 2011. I have a goal of reading all the Newbery list books. Although I don't always appreciate Newbery books, this is one I very much liked. I wish they were all this good.

This book is YA and not middle grade. In it Manjiro aged from 14 up into early adulthood. There are some helpful historical notes and glossary terms at the end. I recommend it for teen boys or anyone who loves a good adventure story.
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