Tag Archives: Japan

The Bamboo Sword

bambooswordThe Bamboo Sword
by Margi Preus
Amulet Books, 2015

Bright, ambitious, and responsible for his own care, we follow young Yoshi who dreams of being a samurai, but is forced out onto the streets by bullies.  He befriends strangers to make a living.  Fascinated with travel he visits the harbor where the first American ships to visit Japan in 1853 to demand access to Japanese ports.  We also meet Jack, a cabin boy on the American ships.  While on shore, Jack becomes separated from the other Americans.  When Jack sees Yoshi being bullied, he can’t stop himself from lending a hand and the two become tied to each other for survival and to get Jack back to the ship. Neither speaks the other’s language and it’s only their combined cleverness and quick wits that keep them alive.  Twists, turns, and surprises convene as the two negotiate between samurai, bullies, and the tensions of the American’s demanding access to long-closed Japanese ports.

A history of America’s first encounter with Japan is included following the story.
This is a follow up story of Preus’ Heart of a Samarai.

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The Peace Tree from Hiroshima, The Little Bonsai with a Big Story

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The Peace Tree from Hiroshima
The Little Bonsai with a Big Story
by Sandra Moore, illustrations by Kazumi Wilds
Tuttle Publishing, 2015

Told from the point of view of the bonsai tree, we follow the three hundred year history of a small pine that is selected from the island of Miyajima by a man named Itaro and passed down from father to son.  At first the tree misses the gentle rain and monkeys squawking, but he soon grows to like his new home where he is watered and pruned and shaped into a bonsai tree.

The tree tells of the terrible thing that happened in 1945 when an atomic bomb exploded two miles from his house and how he felt like bowing, as his friend Masaru (his current caretaker) was unharmed.  Then, thirty years later, “my life took the most surprising turn of all!”  The tree was flown to the National Arboretum in Washington D.C. as a gift to the United States for its 200th birthday.   It became a “Peace Tree”.

The next year the tree was most surprised when Masaru, his former caretaker, now old and frail, visited him with his grandson.

This is an endearing story, so much so the title is almost out of sync with the story.  Of course, the title will ‘sell’ the book; but the story, told in first person, is a gentle, loving story of the tree’s rich experience in Japan before it was sent to the US.  This story is a wonderful way to introduce the history of the relationship between Japan and the United States.

Originally published in San Francisco Book Review  8/2015

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Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin

Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin
by Chieri Uegaki, illustrated by Qin Leng
Kids Can Press, 2014
2015 Ezra Jack Keats Book Award

A story of a gentle spirit who creates a brilliant way to succeed at her dream, despite her newness to the craft.

After three lessons on her violin, Hana decides she want to be in the talent show.  Her brothers laugh at her and say she will be a disaster.  But inspired by her grandfather, a 2nd violinist for a great symphony orchestra in Japan, she pursues her dream.  She remembers her grandfather’s beautiful music she woke to each morning when she visited him last summer.  She also remembers the fun sounds her grandfather made in the evening for her brothers and her.  She practices and practices for the show.  The day of the show she is scared.  Thinking her brothers were right, she wants to turn into a “grain of rice and slip between the floorboards.”  Imagining her grandfather sitting before her for support, she shares with the audience music they can enjoy and she can perform, even as a beginner. Everyone enjoys her performance.  When she and her family return home, her brothers ask for an encore!   Find out what she does to succeed as a beginner!

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Heart of a Samurai

Heart of a Samurai
by  Margi Preus
Amulet Books, 2010
Newbery Honor Winner

Heart of a Samurai is a captivating novel of John Manjiro, a poor Japanese fisherman’s son, who one day (impossibly) becomes a Samurai.

Caught in a storm and stranded on an island, Manjiro is rescued by an American ship.  But in 1841, Japan is isolated from the world, and boarding an American ship closes him off from ever returning to Japan, as well as risks his life with these “butter stinkers” (westerners).  Unlike his fellow fishermen, however, Manjiro wanted to know more about lands outside of Japan.  His inquisitiveness and yearning for adventure befriends him with the ship’s captain.  In his three years on the ship, he learns English well and becomes an interpreter.  Eventually Manjiro makes the decision to travel to America.  Unable to return to Japan and not exactly welcomed in America, he grows up to be a man from two cultures.

Based on the true story of John Manjiro, readers learn how Manjiro came to become the person who forged relationships between Japan and the outside world.  I found it easy to be drawn into the Heart of a Samurai.  It’s written simply and full of adventures that challenge Manjiro’s character.  Without realizing it, I slipped into Manuiro’s experiences, as if they were my own.

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Yuko-Chan and the Daruma Doll: The Adventures of a Blind Japanese Girl Who Saves Her Village


Yuko-Chan and the Daruma Doll
The Adventures of a Blind Japanese Girl Who Saves Her Village
by Sunny Seki
Tuttle Publishing, 2012

There’s magic in this story. While simply told, there’s something in it that stirs the heart and imagination.

Sunny Seki, originally from Japan, and an artist and story teller, gently tells the story of Yuko-Chan, a blind young girl. While many villagers feel sorry for her, she does not. She teases the village leaders who stop reciting scriptures when lights are blown out. ““Wow! You’re handicapped aren’t you,” she joked,” after she had continued reciting the scriptures, because she had memorized them.

As a female and someone with a disability, she was not allowed in school, but when the boys were left alone and made ‘noise’, she redirected them into producing harmony. Yuko-Chan heads out in a snow storm to deliver food and tumbles. She discovers the gourd, shaped like Daruma-san (Father of Zen Buddhism) up-righted itself. She came up with the idea that the villagers could make dolls that always stood upright and sell them to help them through a recent disaster where a volcano had ruined their crops. The dolls sold, and today people come from around the world to purchase them. The village’s success following the disaster started from a single idea from a blind girl.

The book includes text in both English and Japanese.

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Wait! Wait!

Wait!  Wait!
by Hatsue Nakawaki,  Illustrated by Komako Sakai
Enchanted Lion Books, 2013
originally published in 2002 by Fukuinkan Shoten Publishers, Inc., in Japan, under the title Korya Mate Mate

This illustrated story captures the essence of a toddler’s fascination and intense curiosity with life.  We watch a child when their whole world is ‘one butterfly.’  They learn ‘butterfly’ by examining one intently.  We watch the child experience a lizard.  We watch them experience a pigeon, the most common of birds—but new to them.  The story is told in thirty words, a third of which are the single word, ‘wait’, and relies on its simple drawings to show the surprise, the fascination and the joy of being in the moment, a child’s moment. A comforting story of discovery.

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