Title: Manjiro: The Boy Who Risked His Life for Two Countries
Author and Illustrator: Emily Arnold McCully
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Flesch-Kinkaid Grade Level: 7.4
Concepts: international trade, exchange, jobs, saving, natural resources
Review: It is 1841 and Manjiro, a fourteen-year-old boy living in Japan, has found work as a fisherman on a small boat with four other men. Unfortunately a fierce storm took their boat far out to sea, and the men endured eight long days before they found shelter on a small deserted island. Compounding their worries about survival was the constant fear of what the Japanese authorities might do to them upon their return; the Tokugawa government had closed Japan to the outside world in the early 1600s, and more than two hundred years later, failure to abide by this law could still result in death.
Manjiro and his fellow fishermen spent six months living as castaways on the island before an American whaling ship found them and brought them to Honolulu. Because the captain had begun to serve as Manjiro’s mentor and teacher on the ship, he invited Manjiro to continue the journey with him to Massachusetts. Over time, Manjiro prospered in his new home and did well in school, despite some discriminatory treatment that he faced as one of few Japanese in the state. With an ever-present dream to buy his own boat and return to his mother, Manjiro saw money-making potential in California’s new gold mines. Even if he could save enough to purchase a boat, would the Japanese authorities allow him to return to Japan unpunished?
Children will no doubt enjoy the exciting story of a castaway on a deserted island who finds a new home abroad, joins the California gold rush, and risks execution for returning to Japan. Along the way, young readers will unwittingly get a good dose of economics, with lessons about jobs, savings, natural resources, and trade. This thoughtful book may initiate some interesting conversations about what happens when countries isolate themselves from the rest of the world. A complex issue perhaps, but the book approaches it in a way that children will appreciate and enjoy.
Review by: Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children