A Trip to New Bedford…

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Inly’s 6th grade students just finished reading Margie Preus’s 2011 Newbery Honor book, Heart of a Samurai.  The kids were engaged from the opening pages when Manjiro and his friends are on a small fishing boat – and only Manjiro notices that “dark clouds had swallowed the sky.”  If you’re looking for a good historical novel to read with a group of 6th or 7th grade students, check it out. Heart of a Samurai is based on the real-life story of Manjiro, a Japanese boy who, after his fishing boat is stranded on a small island, he and the other members of the crew are rescued by an American whaling ship. Manjiro ultimately arrives in New Bedford, Massachusetts where he is adopted by the whaling ship’s captain.

Since the New Bedford Whaling Museum is about an hour away from Inly, we decided to take a trip back in time to when New Bedford was the whaling capital of the world. The museum is really wonderful – and being there with our students made me want to return when I can spend more time looking around. There are interesting exhibits about the influence of the whaling industry on life in the 19th century and the contributions of people from the Azores, Cape Verde, the Arctic Circle, African Americans, and the Portuguese.

But here’s what our kids (and the teachers) liked best…this penguin:


This was a “real” Emperor penguin that gave his (or her?) life for science. In 1909, it was captured by a whaling captain who was collecting specimens for the American Museum of Natural History. According to the information, the captain kept this specimen for himself – can you blame him?

I also really liked this guy. I should have read the sign more carefully to learn about his historic significance, but since I missed it, I’m just going with a pure emotional reaction. I wanted to take him home and put him in my front yard.


Also on display was this book that looked important enough to do a wiki search. In case you’re curious…this reference book is the “bible” of knot tying. Published in the mid-1940s, The Ashley Book of Knots, includes nearly 4,000 types of knots. I wonder if bunny ears are included…


A few students have asked me to recommend other books about whaling, and luckily for them, there are lots of well-researched and interesting books on the topic:

Shipwrecked! The True Adventures of a Japanese Boy by Rhoda Blumberg (a nonfiction account of Manjiro’s life – the perfect companion book to Heart of a Samurai)

Whale Port by Mark Foster (the history of a fictional whaling port told through detailed illustrations)

Whaling Season: A Year in the Life of an Arctic Whale Scientist by Peter Lourie (the story of a scientist who studies the bowhead whale in Barrow, Alaska – part of the Excellent Scientists in the Field series)

Gone A-Whaling: The Lure of the Sea and the Hunt for the Great Whale by Jim Murphy (Murphy gives readers the whole story – including many first-hand accounts of life on board a whaling ship)

The Impossible Rescue: The True Story of an Amazing Arctic Adventure by Martin Sandler (the true story of three men sent by President McKinley to rescue hundreds of sailors who were trapped in whaling ships that were locked in ice off the Alaskan coast)

Revenge of the Whale: The True Story of the Whaleship Essex by Nathanial Philbrick (an amazing adventure story based on Philbricks’s book, In the Heart of the Sea)


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