I’m enjoying Bookworm’s unit on Japan for Bookshark 5th grade. My husband is Japanese, but I don’t know much about the Japanese culture or history, so this unit has been eye opening for me. I’m also enjoying this curriculum because it’s good for Bookworm to learn about his heritage.
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The Master Puppeteer by Katherine Paterson is set in Japan during a famine in the 18th century. This book, which was deemed an ALA Notable Book, tells the story of young Jiro, who is 13.
His father,Hanji, is a kind-hearted puppet maker. He eeks out a living making puppets primarily for one client, Yoshida, the local theater owner.
Jiro’s mother, Isako, is a bitter woman who lost three children-a boy and two girls-to the plagues the same year that Jiro was born. Isako resents Jiro’s survival, as if his survival caused the death of her other three children. Plus, now that there is a famine, she resents all the food her growing teenage son eats. His appetite can never be satisfied.
For the starving residents of the town, there is hope–Saburo, a bandit who steals from the rich to give to the poor. Those in charge are anxious to catch Saburo, but he remains elusive.
Meanwhile, Jiro goes with his father to deliver a puppet to Yoshida. While there, Jiro displays bad manners by excitedly eating as much food as he can when Yoshida offers Jiro and Hanji a bite to eat. This catches Yoshida’s attention, and he let’s Hanji know that he would be happy to have Jiro come work for him at the theater.
Hanji dismisses this thought, but Jiro does not. When Jiro later feels, once again, that he is an extra burden for his mother, he runs off and joins Yoshida’s theater.
While Jiro’s life improves in one way–he now has a purpose at the theater and he has plenty of food to eat–his life spirals downward in another way. He learns that his father has become sick and has moved to the country side, and his mother is starving.
Not only that, but as the city’s residents become more desperate for food, violence and danger increases, too. Night rovers take over in the town, looting and pillaging, looking for food.
Yoshida’s son, Jiro’s beloved friend, Kinshi, who must face his father’s wrath repeatedly, secretly joins the night rovers.
While this book is interesting throughout, the last 50 pages really become suspenseful. This book takes a surprise twist at the end, and it had both Bookworm and I excited to keep reading to learn what was going to happen. This book is not only a great story about coming of age, friendship, and family, but also about the Japanese theater and culture.
I have not read any books by Katherine Paterson before, but I plan to read more after reading this book.
5 out of 5 stars on the Mom’s Plans’ scale.