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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Heart of a Samurai

HEART OF A SAMURAI and MOON OVER MANIFEST may have surprised people, but they really shouldn’t have.  HEART OF A SAMURAI earned four starred reviews; MOON OVER MANIFEST got three.  If these debut novels had been released in the spring rather than the fall, I think you would have heard more online buzz about them.  (And, by the way, what a great year for Abrams: they bagged a Newbery Honor for HEART OF A SAMURAI and the YALSA Nonfiction Award for JANIS JOPLIN.)

HEART OF A SAMURAI is another solid honor book with broad child appeal, especially for boy readers.  The gorgeous cover (my favorite of the year, actually) will entice readers, but the story will keep them hooked.  I did feel that my attention lagged in some places, but that is probably because I am more accustomed to the briefer versions of this story, Rhoda Blumberg’s nonfiction account, SHIPWRECKED!, and Emily Arnold McCully’s picture book retelling, MANJIRO.  Although there was some brief discussion of classic Newbery elements, we didn’t really give this one its just due leading up to the announcement.  Please share your thoughts with us now.

Jonathan Hunt About Jonathan Hunt

Jonathan Hunt is the Coordinator of Library Media Services at the San Diego County Office of Education. He served on the 2006 Newbery committee, and has also judged the Caldecott Medal, the Printz Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. You can reach him at


  1. I snagged this book soon after awards were announced and read it in one day. I greatly enjoyed it. I think this was a great choice for a Newbery Honor.

  2. I was totally sold on this book when I read it before the announcement. As I mentioned on a post over at Fuse, it has pretty much all of the typical elements of a Newbery: boy narrator, historical fiction, exotic setting, female author. But it is a GOOD book, for all that. I wasn’t familiar with the story and found it entrancing and excitingly told; like a new perspective on a story I know very well (19th century America). I was especially taken with the way the author worked in bits of Japanese culture. And I loved the way the relationship between the boy and captain was portrayed. The author gets across real emotion here and in other places without ever dropping into hackneyism.

  3. I can’t say I’m sorry this book racked up an honor, as my students have been crazy about it. But as a reader it fell short for me. I never seemed to connect with the main character, let alone the peripheral characters. I found the historical setting interesting, but didn’t find the writing riveting.

  4. Just started reading this one. It has been really engrossing and well-written. I was skeptical at first, but I think this was a great choice for the Honor.

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