Title: Heart of a Samurai
Author: Margi Preus
Publisher: Amulet Books
Concepts: trade, interdependence, jobs, scarcity, natural resources, savings
Review: In 1841, fourteen-year-old Manjiro worked as the youngest fisherman aboard a small Japanese boat with four other men. After a severe storm caused their boat to drift far out to sea, the men finally found shelter on a small deserted island. Not only did sheer survival prove a growing challenge, but the men had to face the nagging worry of how Japanese officials would treat them if they were rescued. The government had closed Japan's borders to all foreigners in the early 1600s, and anyone who left the country could be put to death upon returning to Japan.
After six grueling months living as castaways, Manjiro and his compatriots were rescued by an American whaling ship and brought to Hawaii. During this period the captain and Manjiro developed a father-son connection, so Manjiro continued the voyage with him to Massachusetts. Although Manjiro enjoyed life on the captain's farm and he learned quickly at school, the discriminatory treatment he faced in the community as the only Japanese boy prevented him from feeling completely at home. Year later, California's gold rush provided an opportunity to save enough money for returning home, but would the Japanese government permit him to re-enter the country after such a long time of living with the "barbarians"?
Middle grade readers will appreciate this engaging tale of a courageous child who survived near starvation on a deserted island, earned the respect of a bunch of rough sailors on a whaling ship, adapted to an entirely different culture, and risked execution for returning to Japan. Intrinsic to the storyline are a set of useful economics lessons about jobs, savings, and natural resources. The historical context provides an interesting opportunity to discuss the repercussions of sealing a country's borders to the outside world, an issue that is still relevant today.
Review by: Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children