Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

The Master Puppeteer is at once a fascinating introduction to the complex artistry of the Japanese puppet theater, a gripping historical novel, a mystery, and a study of friendship and loyalty. The novel follows the adventures of thirteen-year-old Jiro, who finds himself caught up in the political events of late eighteenth century Osaka, Japan. When Jiro accompanies his father, Hanji, to deliver a puppet to the Hanaza theater, Yoshida, the owner and master puppeteer, offers to take the boy on as an apprentice. To Jiro’s chagrin, his mother, Isako, does not take Yoshida’s offer seriously. Determined not to be a burden on his family during the current famine, Jiro runs away to the theater, where he becomes an apprentice; he begins his career by opening curtains and memorizing scripts and eventually graduates to a role as a “foot operator.” Along the way, he is helped by an older boy, Yoshida’s son, Kinshi, who does not seem able to please his father.

Worried about his father, who is said to be ill, Jiro briefly returns home to discover that Isako has taken his father to recuperate at a relative’s farm in Kyoto. When Jiro again returns home on New Year’s Day, he discovers that his mother is near starvation. One evening, Saburo, the mysterious bandit who steals from the rich to help the poor, leaves a notice on the door of the theater demanding a special performance of the current play, “The Thief of the Tokaido.” The lights go out after the...

(The entire section is 603 words.)


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

The story is set in Osaka, Japan, during the famine of 1783-1787. Because the effects of the famine have been so severe, the citizens of...

(The entire section is 45 words.)

Literary Qualities

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Katherine Paterson has said that she gives little thought to her writing style, allowing the demands of the story to determine her style. In...

(The entire section is 552 words.)

Social Sensitivity

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

The Master Puppeteer takes place in relatively violent times. Jiro stumbles over dead bodies on the street; poverty and hunger break...

(The entire section is 117 words.)

Topics for Discussion

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Discuss the various customs that are part of Jiro's world but not ours, such as the customs involved in the offering and declining of food...

(The entire section is 448 words.)

Ideas for Reports and Papers

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Study Japanese culture and life in the late eighteenth century. Look for maps of eighteenth-century Japan and Osaka. Describe the...

(The entire section is 338 words.)

Related Titles / Adaptations

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Katherine Paterson has written two other young adult novels set in Japan of the past: The Sign of the Chrysanthemum and Of...

(The entire section is 34 words.)

For Further Reference

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Bell, Anthea. "A Case of Commitment." Signal 38 (May 1982): 73-81. Although this article offers little information on The Master...

(The entire section is 114 words.)