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In Katherine Paterson ’s novel, Jiro is the son of a Bunraku puppet maker, Hanji. Jiro is clever, resourceful, and quick-witted, but also impatient and more than a little arrogant. When his family falls on hard times, Jiro must leave home to become an apprentice in a puppetry company, the...

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In Katherine Paterson’s novel, Jiro is the son of a Bunraku puppet maker, Hanji. Jiro is clever, resourceful, and quick-witted, but also impatient and more than a little arrogant. When his family falls on hard times, Jiro must leave home to become an apprentice in a puppetry company, the Hananza. In large part through his friendship with Kinshi, whose father is Yoshida, the master puppeteer of the title, Jiro develops his puppet-making skills.

Jiro’s resourcefulness and curiosity are strengths in that they help him cope with his new position, make a friend, and learn his craft. But they also are a large part of his weakness, as he strives to excel, takes pride in getting along on his own terms, and goes poking around into a mystery that seems not to concern him: the identity of the secretive bandit Saburo whose guerrilla tactics aid the city’s poor.

The author conveys that questioning authority and pushing against seemingly unfair rules are part of any child’s growing up, but that pushing too far can unleash a backlash—as Jiro learns the hard way. Leaping to conclusions because he is overconfident about understanding Saburo’s role and real identity, he jeopardizes not only his own safety, as he dodges rioting crowds, but that of the people he cares about. Learning more than he ever wanted to know about his own parents, and understanding the value of secrets, he must also face his responsibility for Kinshi’s painful and career-ending injury.

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