Saturday, August 23, 2014


You may not be anywhere near the Birmingham Museum of Art. You may not be able to enjoy its current exhibit, Lethal Beauty: Samurai Weapons and Armor. That won’t stop the readers at your house from getting caught up in the action of a debut novel that combined this ancient art with our American love of baseball. Speaking of which, I am hooked on Little League these days. Anybody else watching the World Series with me?

SAMURAI SHORTSHOP by Alan Gratz, Dial Books, 2006

As noted, this was a debut novel. The author did not stop there. In addition to his obvious penchant for thorough research, he delights in combining and twisting unrelated topics: Bushido--the Samurai code--and baseball. Shakespeare and pulp mystery fiction. He makes disparity work. Gratz's latest middle grade series is being launched as I write this. It combines steam punk and the 1870’s.  

First Samurai Shortstop: Toyo is 16. The year is 1890. When the mighty Shoguns were overturned twenty years earlier, Japan’s isolation ended. Toyo is born into a country opening its eyes to the rest of the world. However, his father and uncle belong to the traditional world of bushido, the way of the warrior.
When Toyo’s uncle commits ritual suicide to avoid modernization, Toyo agonizes that his father may do the same thing.

Toyo’s traditional samurai training at the prestigious Ichiko Japanese boarding school and his clash with the spirit of Ichiko law lands him squarely in the same dilemma faced by teens today: how do you fit in and still stand up for yourself?

Alan Gratz figured this out and young readers casting about for one last absorbing story before summer ends will find the ending as satisfying as a baseball game when your team wins.

Now is the time to check out the author’s web site and see what other twists he has in store.

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