Heart of a Samurai was my 6th grade son’s choice for our bedtime reading since it is a Lovelace Division II (grades 6-8) nominee this year. Our entire family was drawn into the story of Manjiro. His story begins when, as a 14-year-old boy, he and four other fishermen are caught in a terrible storm and shipwrecked on Bird Island in the Pacific Ocean.
When they are rescued it is by an American whaling ship. Due to Japan’s isolationist policies, after leaving Japan, no one is ever known to have been allowed to return. Because their country has had no contact with other countries and people Manjiro has been brought up to believe Americans are almost more monster than human. You can imagine his terror at being taken aboard an American vessel with so many men who look very different from the people he has known all his life.
Manjiro’s journey takes him across the Pacific to the Hawaiian islands and then on to Massachussetts at the invitation of Captain Whitfield. The Captain and his wife welcome Manjiro into their home. He is given an education and loved as a son. Then Manjiro does the unimaginable and decides to try and return to Japan.
The consensus in our family is that the best part of Heart of Samurai is knowing that Manjiro and his story are true. Manjiro is believed to be the first Japanese person to set foot in America. He is also believed to have given input and advice to Japanese leaders which ultimately resulted in an end to Japan’s isolationist policy in March of 1854.
Heart of a Samurai was a winner with our family. If you are interested in history, accepting differences and stories reflecting the determination and resilience of an extraordinary young person then Heart of a Samurai is the perfect Lovelace read for you.