I've just read a true life adventure story of a young Japanese boy in the outstanding non-fiction book, "Shipwrecked", by Rhoda Blumberg, and published by HarperCollins. As I read about Manjiro and how he had to go out in fishing boats, at the age of nine, to support his family after his father died, I soon realized that I was in for an incredible journey.

Manjiro lived in the 1800's during the time that Japan was completely isolated.  Japan had been like this for over two centuries and wanted to continue not allowing any foreigners to come to their land. They also forbade any of their countrymen to leave their waters, beyond a 20 mile radius, for fear that they would be "poisoned" by the outsiders' beliefs and customs.  If anyone tried to leave Japan, they would be put to death. So, when Manjiro, now at age 14, left the shores of his village to try to find fish further out from shore, he never dreamed it would end up taking him 12 years to return to his sparse home.

As he and the others were fishing, a huge storm overcame them and pushed their meager boat further and further away from the Japanese shore. After 7 days, the sea calmed, but the storm had left them over 300 hundred miles from their home. Luckily, they spotted land and were able to climb ashore onto a tiny island.

It was hard living on the island because there was no vegetation or fresh water. It was a very difficult time for the five shipwrecked fishermen. But they were able to survive by eating the birds that lived on the island and drinking rain water.  They nearly died from the chilling cold, hunger and even an earthquake that nearly buried them alive.

When Manjiro spotted a ship coming straight towards them, he thought it was only a dream. But it proved to be a whaling ship that ended up rescuing them. They had been on that island for several months. Even though neither the American rescuers, nor these shipwrecked Japanese, could speak the other's language, the fishermen knew that everything would be all right.

Manjiro was a very smart and adaptable young man and quickly learned to speak and understand the English language. So, the captain used his help on the ship. Manjiro soon learned all of the aspects about killing and utilizing all parts of the whale. He also learned much on the ship, including the jobs of the mates on board, how to navigate it and sail the masts. After several months at sea, the whaling ship docked in Honolulu where he took his castaways to someone who could take care of these young men. (He didn't want to get anywhere near the Japanese waters even though he wanted to help his castaways)  He feared for his life because of their great animosity toward outsiders.

He left all of the castaways in Hawaii, except for Manjiro who wanted to sail with this good and fair captain. The captain took him under his wing and practically adopted him. After many more months at sea, the captain took him home to New Bedford, Massachusetts where Manjiro learned to read and write. The captain owned fourteen acres of land, and Manjiro learned about farming in America. The captain even enrolled him in an academy for navigation and surveying.

Eventually, through many more exciting adventures, Manjiro is able to go home to his native Japan, but not without the fear of being instantly killed for having left a country no one was able to ever leave.  Manjiro became the first Japanese to set foot on American soil and I can imagine the looks he received when walking down a New England street.

Ms. Blumberg has listed the many contrasts that differed between Japan and America in those days. She has included actual photographs, wood block prints, other 19th century art, as well as actual renderings done by Manjiro. You will be amazed at what happened to Manjiro after finally making it back to his family. I will leave it to any 9 year old or older to find this out. This would be an excellent read-aloud for families to enjoy!

Are you looking for the perfect alphabet book for your little one to learn from and enjoy? The Chicken House Publishers has just put out a wonderful compilation of five alphabet books for the very young! 

"A Treasury of Alphabets" has some great traditional and some newer alphabet poetry Some are great traditional books and some are new but all are full of rhyme and rhythm, and beg to be read out loud to your youngster! There is Edward Lear's, "A Was Once an Apple Pie", illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw, "The Shaker Abecedarius" illustrated by Jan Barger, "A Was an Archer" illustrated by Tiphanie Beeke, "An Alphabet of Nursery Rhymes" illustrated by Lynne Chapman and "The Christmas Alphabet", illustrated by Mary Claire Smith.

The pictures are bright and glorious. The combination of alphabet poems are a must in every household of young children. There's even a great forward by Wendy Cooling in the front of this compilation book.  And the best part of this outstanding book is that the language is so rich and full that it is sure to enhance your child's speaking and understanding of English! (Not to mention the fun you'll have reading these poems to your youngster!) A must for all 2 through 5 year olds!

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