A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that, as is historically accurate, the ritualized suicide known as seppuku is treated as an honorable act. In fact, there are several incidents of seppuku in this story, along with beheadings, a few of which are rather gory.
What's the story?
Seikei, son of a tea merchant in 18th century Japan, dreams of being a samurai and poet. But in the strictly ordered class system of the time this is impossible -- he can only look forward to following in his father's footsteps, a life for which he has little aptitude or interest.
While staying at the Tokaido Inn with his father during a business trip, Seikei sees what he believes to be a ghost steal a ruby belonging to a powerful and ruthless lord. When he speaks up to defend a family unjustly accused of the theft, Judge Ooka is impressed with his courage, and employs him to help track down the real thief, launching a journey that takes him into the world of the Kabuki theater.
Is it any good?
Readers will find this story about a young boy who wants to be a samurai both an engaging mystery and an intriguing introduction to the historical and cultural details of shogun-era Japan. The Way of the Warrior (Bushido); poetry; tea tasting and ceremonies; the complexities of Kabuki theater; the difficulties of travel; and lots more are lovingly detailed by the authors, and may prompt kids to want to learn more about this fascinating era.
Seikei himself is an appealing protagonist. Torn between what he wants and what is expected of him, he is fearful yet courageous, uncertain yet determined, and the resolution of both the mystery and his path in life is satisfying indeed. The bottom line: This is a treat that kids will both love -- and learn from.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the concept of social classes. What are the advantages and disadvantages of the class system? Why can't Seikei become a samurai if he wants to? Why would anyone want to become a samurai anyway, and what does that tell us about this culture? Why would only samurai write poetry?