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2011 Newbery Honor Book

Heart of a Samurai

In 1841, a Japanese fishing vessel sinks. Its crew is forced to swim to a small, unknown island, where they are rescued by a passing American ship. Japan’s borders remain closed to all Western nations, so the crew sets off to America, learning English on the way.

Manjiro, a fourteen-year-old boy, is curious and eager to learn everything he can about this new culture. Eventually the captain adopts Manjiro and takes him to his home in New England. The boy lives for some time in New England, and then heads to San Francisco to pan for gold. After many years, he makes it back to Japan, only to be imprisoned as an outsider. With his hard-won knowledge of the West, Manjiro is in a unique position to persuade the shogun to ease open the boundaries around Japan; he may even achieve his unlikely dream of becoming a samurai.

Published by Amulet Books. Cover art by Jillian Tamaki.

Featured on NPR’s Backseat Book Club >

Download the reader’s guide for Heart of a Samurai >

Praise for Heart of a Samurai

It’s a classic fish-out-of-water story . . . and it’s precisely this classic structure that gives the novel the sturdy bones of a timeless tale.
— Booklist, starred review
A terrific biographical novel.
— Wall Street Journal
Highly entertaining page-turner
— Kirkus Starred Review
Stunning debut novel
— School Library Journal, starred review
Adventurous, sprawling, heartwarming
— Publishers Weekly, starred review

Awards for Heart of a Samurai

2011 Newbery Honor Book

ALSC Notable Children’s Book

Asian/Pacific American Award for Children’s Literature

Listed as one of the Best Children’s Books of the year by Bank Street College, Publishers Weekly, New York City Public Library, Kirkus Reviews

Notable Book for a Global Society

Kiddo Award – Editor’s Pick

Featured on NPR’s Backseat Book Club

Global Reading Challenge Book Seattle Public Library

Videos about Heart of a Samurai

90-Second Newbery Film Festival

Heart of a Samurai was adapted into a short movie for the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival. You can learn more about the festival including dates for the annual screenings in New York City, Chicago, and more at 90secondnewbery.com >


Tour Margi’s writing house

Take a tour of Margi’s writing house as she talks about her life as a writer and her inspiration for Heart of a Samurai.

One final thought from Vinny

This was perhaps one of the best books I’ve ever read. I have to say that I greatly enjoyed having the honor to read and review this fantastic book. I enjoyed it so much, I couldn’t stop reading it, and finished it in three days. I would have read more each day, but I wanted to savor the story; let the suspense sink in. Yes, I would DEFINITELY recommend this book to you all — children and adults alike, so you too can read and become genuinely inspired by the true story of ‘the boy who discovered America,’ Manjiro.
— Vinny De Bellis, age 12, for LA Parent Magazine