Fans of Margi Preus’ award-winning middle-grade historical fiction set in Japan (Heart of a Samurai and The Bamboo Sword) now have the chance to delve further into samurai history with Pamela S. Turner’s action-packed biography of the legendary warrior Minamoto Yoshitsune.
It’s no small feat to reach back hundreds of years into the past to tell this story, but Turner, who has written nonfiction books on science, including the Orbis Pictus Honor Book The Frog Scientist, is more than equal to the task. She sets the stage with a short introduction that places Yoshitsune in historical context: “Yoshitsune’s story unfolds in the late twelfth century, during the adolescence of the samurai,” and goes on to tell readers that Yoshitsune was at the heart of the awakening of this bold, rebellious culture.
And then we delve right in. Yoshitsune’s story begins in 1160, and Turner wastes no time in letting readers know just how high the stakes were for this boy, whose father left him “a lost war, a shattered family, and a bitter enemy.” Turner traces Yoshitsune’s early life, from exile in a monastery to teenage runaway, and his long journey to acquire the skills of a warrior by mastering the sword and shooting arrows from warhorses. Readers then follow Yoshitsune’s famous career as he joins his half-brother Yoritomo in an uprising against the most powerful samurai in Japan, to his death in 1189.
Teachers and librarians will be pleased to see the extensive back matter, including an informative author’s note, source notes, a timeline, bibliography and glossary. Although the setting and time period may be new for young American readers, Gareth Hinds’ arresting brush and ink illustrations create a gorgeous package and help to extend Turner’s rich, vivid narrative. Samurai Rising is compelling nonfiction at its best.
Although this is a Junior Library Guild selection for grades nine and up, younger readers comfortable with the subject matter of war will also enjoy this title—and so will adults with an interest in Japan.
Deborah Hopkinson lives near Portland, Oregon. Her most recent book for young readers is Beatrix Potter and the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig.