Fourteen-year-old Manjiro has always dreamed of becoming a samurai. He comes from a family of fishermen, and Japanese society does not allow him to pursue any other career. Fortunately, American society does. When Manjiro and the other men fishing with him are caught in a storm and rescued by a New England whaling ship, they think these strange Westerners will kill them. Manjiro quickly learns English and realizes that despite their strange ways, these sailors are big-hearted, brave men who respect anyone who works hard and demonstrates courage. Given the opportunity to go to America as the adopted son of the ship’s captain, Manjiro sets off on an adventure that will eventually lead him back to Japan.
Based on a true story, Preus’ illustrated book presents the hardships of life on the sea and the difficulties of facing discrimination. Manjiro overcomes his fear of foreigners and the prejudices held by Japanese and Americans alike. Readers accustomed to modern children’s literature may find that this tale drags a bit in the telling. For those interested in sailing, Carry On, Mr. Bowditch is another true story about navigation and the virtues of industriousness and perseverance.
Jennifer Minicus is a mother and teacher currently living in Ridgewood, NJ.