Monday, May 2, 2011


Today's Marvelous Middle Grade is based on the true story of Manjiro, believed to be the first Japanese person to visit America. HEART OF A SAMURAI, by Margi Preus, begins in January 1841 and follows the adventures of a fourteen-year-old Japanese fisherman from the time that he and his friends are stranded on Bird Island (Torishima) by a storm.
Heart of a Samurai

If you're familiar with this period in history, you already know the Japanese had isolated themselves from the rest of the world. Not only did they kill foreigners, they would also kill any of their own countrymen who left and then returned. Manjiro has as much a chance of returning to his own country as a poor fisherman has of becoming a Samurai.

I would recommend this one for the older end of middle graders and up into YA. My twelve-year-old  and I loved it, but I wouldn't hand it to my eight-year-old yet. Not because it was offensive but because of the way the main character introspects about the racism of the Americans and the Japanese and also about the slaughter of animals. On second thought, I may read it to him, so that he can ask me questions. I really liked how they took so many of the real Manjiro's thoughts from his letters ect. and incorporated them into the story. And of course I loved how, in the end, he achieves the impossible (though what that "impossible" might encompass, you'll have to read to find out). You have to read the Epilogue and Historical Note though.

HEART OF A SAMURAI has death, bullies, rescue by blue-eyed barbarians, whaling, a kind captain, school, horse racing, gold mining, a May Day poem for a girl with storm-colored eyes (which she treasured into her eighties), a parrot who speaks Japanese, a mad captain, prison, and impossible triumph. It's the most beautiful and inspiring story I've read this year.

Have you read it? If not, what's the most inspiring story you've read this year?

If you'd like to read about more Marvelous Middle Grades, the following people would love to oblige you: 

Shannon Whitney Messenger (our founding mother)

Have a Marvelous Monday!   


  1. Great review. That was a great idea to read the book to your 8 year old. I used to do that when my daughter was young.

    I loved Blue Fire by Janice Hardy and The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan. Thanks for linking me.

  2. WOW! This is going on my to-read list! Sounds like my kind of book! Thanks so much!

  3. That's should really great. I bet this book ends up on most school's reading lists.

  4. I keep hearing how good this book is. Thanks for the review.

  5. Yes on Shannon being our founding mother! Will for sure read and share this with my kids...speaking of, best get off to work! Enjoy your day and thanks for the recommend.

  6. Ooooooo! When I saw the book you wrote about today, I stopped reading - only because I'm 3/4's of the way through it myself and didn't want anything to influence my reading of it! Likely I'll be MMGM'ing it soon (but maybe not since you already did). Margi Preus appears at a local (to me) kid's bookstore in a few weeks. I'm looking forward to meeting her.

  7. I've been wondering about this one, so thanks for the great review, Myrna!! :-)

  8. I've had my eye on this book. Sounds fascinating.

    The most inspiring book I've read this year: Wimpy Kid for voice, but I love The Book Thief for writing and compelling story.

  9. Nice review, Myrna. And thanks, as always, for the link.

    I've had this on my TBR pile for a while. Still have the ARC. Glad to hear you loved it so much.

    Most inspiring? I've read so many this year that it's hard to pick just one. Probably The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate.

  10. Alright, last night I finished. Fascinating story. Your assessment that it's for upper end MG into YA is right on (in fact, it's shelved in YA in my library).

    As a lover (and writer) of MG historical fiction, this book teaches about a little discussed topic in history and covers prejudice in a beautiful manner - opening readers eyes to what we say, how we think, and how we behave.

  11. Did this come out recently, then? Whenever it came out, it sounds exciting. The list of all the plot elements was perfect!

    P.S. Just started ELLA ENCHANTED...

  12. Yes, Krista. Heart of a Samurai came out last fall, but I just found it at the library. I hope you love Ella Enchanted as much as I did.

    Natalie and Joanne, thank you for the recommendations. I'll check them out.

    Brooke, I loved The Book Thief. I don't think I've ever recommended it on here because I read it before I started blogging, but it's one of the most inspiring books I've ever read.

    And Barbara, thanks for agreeing with me and for being my 200th follower!

  13. That sounds like an amazing book. I'm adding that to my summer list!

    Thanks for your kind comments on My Blog.

  14. I'm going to see if this is on my TBR list. It sounds fascinating. I actually didn't know about that period of history in Japan.