Manjiro is only 14 years old when he takes a job on a Japanese fishing boat to help support his family. A big storm shipwrecks the fisherman on a deserted island for several months. When they are finally rescued by an American whaling boat they are almost starved to death.
The year is 1841 and as strange as this may seem to us, the country of Japan had a really isolationish view of the world back then. That means that they just wanted to be left alone. They did not want any influences from outside their own country. What this means for Manjiro and the other fisherman is that they cannot return to Japan even though the American whaling ship can easily take them there. If the men return to Japan they could be put in jail…or killed. I know, it sounds really odd to us now but that’s the way it was back then.
So, the American ship takes the fishermen to Hawaii instead. The ship’s captain takes Manjiro under his wing and offers to take him on to America as his adopted son. Manjiro accepts this offer and becomes what is thought to be the first Japanese person to set foot in America. I love this part of the book because it is so different. This Japanese boy goes to school and learns to run a farm in 1840s America.
After Manjiro finishes his education and after he sails around the world, Manjiro decides to return to Japan 1. because he wants to see his mother and 2. because he wants to show that the outside world is not dangerous. He does this even though he knows he might be killed. What happens next in his life sounds like something made up in a movie…or a book…but this times it’s TRUE. Manjiro was a real person and the unbelievable things in this books really did happen. Manjiro left Japan as a poor boy with no future. He returns and Japan is never the same again. Author: Margi Preus Newbery Honor Book 2010
Shipwrecked and Manjiro are both biographies about the real Manjiro – yes, he was real. The discipline, secrecy and skill of samurai is very mysterious – and interesting. The next two are about samurai training. If you liked the survival part of Manjiro’s story try the next four – all about survival at sea.
Part of this story is about a boy named Salva. He lives in Sudan, a country in Africa, during a Civil War that happened there in 1985. The other part of this story is about a girl namy Nya and takes place in Sudan right now.
When we say “The Civil War” here in America we are referring to our own Civil War that happened 150 years ago. The Civil War in Sudan was only 25 years ago. During the War in Sudan many people were killed, children were made orphans and families were separated. In order to get to safety many people WALKED to Ethiopia or Kenya.
When you are reading Salva’s part of the story you hear about how he slept on the ground at night and could hear lions hunting around him:
Marial was gone – vanished into the night. He would never have wandered away from the group on his own. His disappearance could mean only one thing. Lion. (page 40)
Salva even has to cross a river infested with crocodiles. Some of the people do not make it across the river. On the other side of the river is a desert…which the people also have to walk across. Can you even imagine surving a journey like that? I can’t.
Nya’s part of the story is about how she walks twice a day, EVERY DAY to a pond to get water. Nya carries the water in a plastic jug and balances it on her head to walk home. That’s what she does every single day; once in the morning and once in the afternoon. The pond is so far away from her home that she has no time to do anything else. No school. No playing. Just walking – carrying water to keep her family alive.
A Long Walk to Water shows you how Salva’s story and Nya’s story are related even though they take place 25 years apart.
There are parts of the book that are hard to read and very, very sad. Some parts are scary. In the end, though, this is a book about really good things. It is about people looking after each other – even if they are stangers to begin with. It is about trying hard and doing your part and it is about hoping for something better.
The really great thing is that A Long Walk to Water is based on a real boy named Salva – you can see his picture with the author on the book jacket or in the video below. (He’s grown up now.) At the end of the book there is a letter to you from Salva that I think you’ll like to read. The best thing he says is, “Stay calm when things are hard or not going right with you. You will get thorugh it when you persevere instead of quitting.” (page 117) Those are pretty powerful words when you realize they come from a kid who survived a situation much, much more difficult than anything we will probably ever face.
Forge continues the story of Curzon and Isabel, two kids during the US Revolution who made a daring escape from slavery together in Chains. Now they are runaways and have to figure out how they are going to keep hidden as well as find food & shelter with a war raging and winter coming.
When they can’t agree on their next move, Isabel takes off on her own leaving Curzon to take his future into his own hands…and worry about Isabel and if she could possibly survive on her own.
To blend in, Curzon joins a band of soldiers at Valley Forge, passing himself off as a freed slave. He’s safe, for now, but also hungry and slowly freezing to death like all the other soldiers at Valley Forge. A gripping story of survival, friendship, trust…and love…maybe. I guess we’ll have to wait for book #3, Ashes, to find out! Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
Crispin The End of Time finishes the trilogy that began with #1 Crispin The Cross of Lead and #2: Crispin at the Edge of the World. Crispin is a peasant orphan in 14th Century France – that would be in the time of castles and knights. In his previous adventures Crispin made a family for himself with his friend Troth and Bear, the man who looks after them. At the beginning of this book, Bear has died, which leaves Crispin and Troth orphaned again; alone and hungry with no place to call home. Crispin and Troth are afraid. The only thing they can think to do is follow Bear’s plan to get to Iceland, even though they have no idea where Iceland is or what they will do when they get there.
Their journey is full of danger and suspense. I actually wanted to cry a couple times, especially when Crispin and Troth choose to go their seperate ways and when Crispin befriends a mis-treated servent boy named Owen when they are both held captive by a band of murderous thieves. There are a couple scenes when Owen curls up in a ball and cries, too frightened and too tired to even begin to think about how he could save himself. It’s hard to imagine a small child in that situation. The most satisfying part of this story is the relationship Crispin and Owen build that helps them outsmart and overcome their captors. Author: Avi
Juliet and Lowell are best friends. Well, until this year, when Lowell started hanging out with Mike, Tommy & Bruce doing things they are sure a girly girl won’t like. Juliet is so mad at Lowell - her FORMER best friend. She finds some kindred spirits in Patsy, Annette, & Linda. The other girls are none too happy about being labelled scaredy-cat sissies either who only have tea parties and won’t get dirty.
The kids get in a verbal war over just what “girl stuff” and “boy stuff” is. The boys are sure that “girl stuff” means painting fingernails, NOT go-carts. The girls think they can paint anything, including go-carts.
Juliet: “We ride bikes and we play baseball and we run just as fast as boys do.”
Patsy: “You don’t know what you’re talking about! Girls can do anything boys can do! At least I can!” (page 59)
The kids agree on a nine day contest, boys versus girls. Each day is a different challenge and whichever side wins the most challenges wins the contest. As the days go by the challenges get harder and harder; the kids daring each other to push themselves to the edge of their abilities…and their courage. Author: Ellen Wittlinger
Here are some more books about battles between boys and girls. This Means War takes place in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis…a time when two countries, the U.S. and Russia, were locked in a similar battle of wills. Countdown is about kids during this time too – also a very good story.