Samurai Shortstop
Samurai Shortstop
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Annotation: While obtaining a Western education at a prestigious Japanese boarding school in 1890, sixteen-year-old Toyo also receives traditional samurai training which has profound effects on both his baseball game and his relationship with his father.
Catalog Number: #4773953
Format: Paperback
No other formats available
Publisher: Penguin
Copyright Date: 2006
Edition Date: 2008
Pages: 280 pages
Availability: Available
ISBN: 0-14-241099-3
ISBN 13: 978-0-14-241099-8
Dewey: Fic
LCCN: 2005022081
Dimensions: 21 cm.
Language: English
ALA Booklist
Had Toyo followed in his father's footsteps, he would have received his samurai swords on his sixteenth birthday in 1890. Instead, Toyo is caught between the quickly modernizing Japan and the samurai culture of his father's generation. He attends an elite school and applies his skills to "besuboru" (baseball). The broad cast of characters is aptly voiced by Morey, whose tones are by turns earnest and innocent for Toyo and weary, strong, and clipped for Toyo's father. The text is peppered with Japanese terminology, which Morey pronounces correctly, even if his inflection seems lacking in authenticity. The story begins with graphic descriptions of a samurai suicide ritual, which may shock or disgust sensitive listeners. Nevertheless, youngsters who get beyond the opening scene are rewarded with an enthusiastically narrated story.
Horn Book
Japan's introduction to baseball coincides with the abolition of samurai traditions in the 1870s, offering Gratz an interesting juxtaposition that drives his novel. Boys at an elite Tokyo boarding school must reconcile old values and philosophies with their growing competence at the Western game they call "besuboru." Despite occasional stylistic stiffness, the blend of historical fiction and sports writing is engaging.
Kirkus Reviews
Commodore Perry sailed into Yokohama harbor in 1853, and only a few years later, in 1870, baseball was introduced into Japan, along with many other Western influences. Out of this clash of cultures comes this story of 16-year-old Toyo, making his way in an elite boarding school, trying to get over the ritual suicide of his old samurai Uncle Koji, fearing his father may be next and eventually seeing baseball as a way to meld East and West, traditional samurai values and the game of "besuboru." Debut novelist Gratz covers much ground in this baseball story that's really about the transition of Japan from a feudal society to a westernized industrial power. The graphic opening chapter makes this for older readers, who will find it an unusual take on the American (and Japanese) pastime. (author's notes, bibliography) (Fiction. 14+)
Publishers Weekly

Debut novelist Gratz uses baseball to tell the story of Japan's tumultuous transition from 19th-century feudalism to 20th-century Westernized society. In the harrowing first chapter, 15-year-old Toyo witnesses his uncle commit seppuku—ritual suicide—rather than renounce his samurai lifestyle as the emperor has ordered. As required by custom, Toyo's father decapitates his brother, and Toyo must watch because, his father says, "Soon you will do the same for me." Toyo then begins life at Ichiko, Tokyo's most elite boarding school, haunted by the image of his father tossing his uncle's head onto the funeral pyre. The violence soon becomes more personal, as Ichiko's upper classmen conduct vicious hazing rituals to keep the first-years in line. His father arrives daily to instruct Toyo in bushido—the "samurai code"—which includes sword-fighting but also meditation and flower arranging. Toyo channels these skills into his passion for a new sport introduced by American gaijin—besuboru. Into this well-researched period piece, Gratz drops a few anachronistic sports clichés, climaxing with a Big Game against a team of Americans. Though Toyo finds a way to use the samurai values his father has taught him, his leadership skills don't develop enough for him to protest or withdraw from aiding the enforcement of a brutal punishment against a boy who has strayed from Ichiko's harsh rules, undermining the sympathy readers may have developed for him. Still, this is an intense read about a fascinating time and place in world history. Ages 12-up. (May)

School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up-It is 1890, and 16-year-old Toyo Shimada is uniquely poised to witness the clash of old and new ways in his native Tokyo. Emperor Meiji has instituted a series of radical reforms; one of them requires that all samurai hang up their swords. In the hypnotic opening scene, Toyo and his father assist as his Uncle Koji commits ritual suicide or seppuku. Toyo's father, Sotaro, is a scholarly samurai whose weapon has always been his ink brush, but he too has decided that he cannot live in this new Japan. He tells Toyo that once he has taught him the ways of bushido, or the warrior's code, he, too, will take his own life. Meanwhile, Toyo begins his studies at an elite high school where the hazing by the senior students makes the first-year students miserable. Eventually, the teen and his friends are able to stand up for themselves, and Toyo wins a place on the school's besuboro or baseball team. His lessons in bushido include meditation, balance, and swordplay, and Toyo finds in baseball a way to make the connection between "both modern and ancient, mental and physical." Gratz's concluding notes offer more on the period as well as sources for more information. This well-written tale offers plenty of fascinating detail, a fast-paced story, and a fresh perspective on "America's pastime." It should delight baseball fans and win a wide audience.-Marilyn Taniguchi, Beverly Hills Public Library, CA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Starred Review ALA Booklist
*Starred Review* Gr. 8 11. Growing up in Tokyo in the 1890s, after the emperor outlawed the samurai tradition of his ancestors, Toyo was not trained in the old disciplines. He must find his own path between the old ways and the new ones, which are symbolized for Toyo by the sport he loves: baseball. In the riveting opening scene, Toyo watches his father help Toyo's beloved uncle Koji perform suppuku, asamurai ritual involving disembowelment and decapitation. Soon after this disturbing event, Toyo becomes a boarder at the most esteemed high school in Tokyo. His high hopes are tempered by a brutal hazing inflicted on the entering class, and the ongoing cruelty of the students in power. Under his father's tutelage, Toyo's growing understanding of traditional samurai arts enables him to grow in skill and self-discipline both on and off the playing field. An engaging protagonist in a harsh, difficult situation, Toyo must work to earn the respect of his father and his teammates, but he will have readers' sympathies from the beginning. Unfolding through the convincing portrayals of individuals in turmoil, the story culminates as most baseball novels do the big game. An appended author's note discusses Gratz's research and lists his sources. A memorable chronicle of boys' inhumanity to boys, and a testament to enduring values in a time of social change.
Voice of Youth Advocates
Filled with mixed emotions, Toyo joins the other new students at his boarding school. He is happy to be far away from his family following the suicide of his Uncle Koji, who was one of the last of the samurai. Suicide was Koji's way of defying the disbanding of the samurai. Toyo is relieved to be far away from the memories of Koji's death. There are rumors, however, about what is in store for the new students at Ichiko Academy at the hands of the upperclassmen. To make matters worse, at first Toyo is not permitted to play on the Ichiko baseball team despite his talent. Nevertheless Toyo proves himself worthy of a place on the team, where his training in bushido-the way of the warrior samurai-will help both Toyo and his teammates become better players and better men. Although Toyo and his teammates are playing baseball at the turn of the last century in Japan, there is much in this novel that will speak to teens today. Toyo applies the rules of bushido to help his teammates function as one unit, a team. He must endure hazing from older students, and his father disapproves of his passion for baseball. Certainly these elements plus the play-by-play action from some of the games will delight readers who love this sport. Baseball and bushido both serve as apt metaphors for the struggles that many young adults face as they come to understand more about themselves and about their heritage.-Teri S. Lesesne.
Bibliography Index/Note: Includes bibliographical references.
Word Count: 59,142
Reading Level: 4.9
Interest Level: 9-12
Accelerated Reader: reading level: 4.9 / points: 9.0 / quiz: 106131 / grade: Middle Grades
Reading Counts!: reading level:4.5 / points:15.0 / quiz:Q38797
Lexile: 790L
Guided Reading Level: Z

Tokyo, 1890. Toyo is caught up in the competitive world of boarding school, and must prove himself to make the team in a new sport called besuboru. But he grieves for his uncle, a samurai who sacrificed himself for his beliefs, at a time when most of Japan is eager to shed ancient traditions. It's only when his father decides to teach him the way of the samurai that Toyo grows to better understand his uncle and father. And to his surprise, the warrior training guides him to excel at baseball, a sport his father despises as yet another modern Western menace. Toyo searches desperately for a way to prove there is a place for his family's samurai values in modern Japan. Baseball might just be the answer, but will his father ever accept a Western game that stands for everything he despises?

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