Margi Preus has a remarkable ability to create fascinating, page-turning stories that transport young readers to faraway times and places. Whether she’s evoking Norway during World War II or 19th-century Japan, Preus combines impeccable research with strong characterization and plot—the very elements that draw readers into history and spark the curiosity to learn more.
Fans of her Newbery Honor-winning Heart of a Samurai will be delighted to discover that Manjiro (based on the historical figure of Nakahama Manjiro) also appears in Preus’ new novel, The Bamboo Sword. The actual Manjiro was rescued from a shipwreck at age 14 by an American whaling ship and spent time in America before re- turning to Japan. Although initially arrested, he was released shortly before Commodore Matthew Perry arrived in Edo Bay in the summer of 1853, and as the only Japa- nese with firsthand knowledge of English and Westerners, he was an important figure in the opening of Japan to the West.
In The Bamboo Sword, readers experience the arrival of those first strange ships through the eyes of a fictional 13-year-old servant boy named Yoshi, who harbors the dream of becoming a samurai himself, a path not open to someone of his class. But events conspire to put a sword into Yoshi’s hand and to intertwine his fate with both Manjiro and a young member of the U.S. expedition, Jack Sullivan, inspired loosely by pioneering war correspondent and photographer Timothy O’Sullivan.
With its compelling story, block prints, historical photographs, glossary and substantive author’s note, The Bamboo Sword is historical fiction at its best.
Deborah Hopkinson lives near Portland, Oregon. Her most recent book for young readers is Courage & Defiance.