Ever heard the true story of the good Japanese boy who travels the world by whaling ship in the 19th century, becomes a success in America and Japan… and all because he's, well, good?
Get ready to fix that. Heart of a Samurai is Margi Preus's semi-fictitious retelling of the real life adventures of a young man named Manjiro, the son of a poor Japanese fisherman who found himself stranded at sea one day, only to be rescued by American sailors and embark upon the adventure of a lifetime.
Why the emphasis on Manjiro as a good boy? Because Preus makes her 2011 book all about how rock solid Manjiro's values and morals are. He doesn't make one mistake or bad step on the path to fulfilling his ultimate dream of becoming a samurai, and all because he holds tight to his core principles of kindness, honesty, and humility. Because he's so steadfast, the two cultures Manjiro navigates come to the foreground, allowing readers to dig into the ways in which Japan and America are different—and the same.
If you're curious about 19th-century Japan or the experiences of immigrants in America, then Heart of a Samurai is sure to grab you. If you're trying to read every Newbery Award winner, well, then you'd best grab this book so you can cross it off your list. And if daring true adventures are your thing, then these pages will probably pique your interest.
See? Manjiro may be as predictable as main characters come in some ways, but his story most certainly isn't.
You know how so many coming-of-age novels are all about how much a character grows and matures? There's definitely some of that in Heart of a Samurai. But here's the thing: it breaks from the standard formula, too.
It's not that Manjiro doesn't learn and grow—he totally does—but he does so because it's just who he is. Instead of coming into his own, Manjiro's core identity hardly ever changes. He starts out sweet, decent, curious, and bright… and he ends up being sweet, decent, curious, and bright. So learning and growing Manjiro does in this book aren't so much things that happen to him, as fundamental parts of who Manjiro is.
Usually learning and growth come with a whole heap of drama in coming of age novels. Think: nasty break-ups, unsavory rumors, and all the other terribleness teens can encounter. But Manjiro's lack of change in his core self—his totally no-drama personality—lets us see how dramatic the world and other people are, as well as why they might be that way. Looked at from this angle, Heart of a Samurai is as mucho Manjiro's coming of age story as it is America and Japan's. And that, Shmoopers, is a pretty cool literary trick Preus pulls off.
Want to know all about the history of the samurai? Here you go.
The Bushido Code
And if you're really into samurai life, here's a more in-depth look at bushido.
The Whitfield-Manjiro Friendship Society
There isn't just is a website devoted to the Whitfield-Manjiro connection, there's a freaking society.
The Man Himself
This page is all Manjiro, all the time.
Margi Preus's Official Site
The author's home on the web, filled with info on her books, her life, and pretty much everything else you might want to know.
Shipwrecked! The True Adventures of a Japanese Boy
If you feel like comparing books—or just can't get enough of Manjiro—there's another book out there oriented toward kids and all about his adventures.
Wall Street Journal Review
The WSJ only has nice things to say.
A visually pleasing book trailer with a pretty little soundtrack for your viewing and listening pleasure.
This guy has actual stuff Manjiro owned. Or so he says, anyway.
Here's what the Backseat Book Club thinks about Heart of a Samurai.
Nakahama Manjiro a.k.a. John Mung
A picture of an older Manjiro.
A photograph of an aged Captain Whitfield.
This website has some cool images of John Mung's original art.
How a Cover is Created
Get an in-depth look at how the cover for Heart of a Samurai came about, from concept sketches to the final product.