cover image Sword of the Samurai: Adventure Stories from Japan

Sword of the Samurai: Adventure Stories from Japan

Eric A. Kimmel. Harcourt Children's Books, $15 (128pp) ISBN 978-0-15-201985-3

Kimmel's (Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins) finely honed collection of 11 samurai stories skillfully introduces the knights who reigned in Japan for more than 1200 years, and demonstrates their enduring legacy. Beginning with a witty tall tale of a warrior's beheading and unlikely survival, Kimmel quickly establishes his strength as a storyteller. He poses as a kind of sensei (samurai teacher) here, subtly weaving in details of the spiritual practices and beliefs of the samurai Bushido (code of conduct). While many of the tales focus on duels of honor, others show an unexpected willingness on the part of the samurai to laugh at themselves; the most esteemed characters possess humility and respect for their master and themselves. In perhaps the most cogent tale, ""The Ronin and the Tea Master,"" a tea master learns that his masterful talents in meditation and concentration while performing the tea ceremony prove just as potent when faced with a renegade knight. Kimmel prefaces each tale with historical and cultural background, and is equally at home with a yarn as he is with historical legends, such as the one about Tomoe Gozen, the brave girl who defies an all-male tradition to study as a samurai and becomes famous for her heroism in battle. Kimmel generously sprinkles the stories with Japanese terms that are easily defined in context, and also provides a glossary with additional insight into the nuances of the warrior language. These selections offer something for everyone: humor, wisdom and adventure along with a gentle and graceful introduction to the code of ethics that continues to shape Japan today. Ages 8-12. (Apr.)