The Master Puppeteer

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The Master Puppeteer
Book cover
Author Katherine Paterson
Illustrator Haru Wells
Country United States
Language English
Genre Children's literature, historical novel
Publisher Thomas Y. Crowell
Publication date
Media type Print (hardcover)
Pages 179 pp (hardcover edition)
ISBN 978-0-690-00913-2
OCLC 1257048
LC Class PZ7.P273 Mas

The Master Puppeteer (1975) is a historical novel for children by Katherine Paterson. It won the 1977 U.S. National Book Award in category Children’s Literature.[1]


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.”

Jiro later finds the sword that Saburo used for the performance day special in the second floor of the storage room, a shed-like room with walls lined with puppets which is off limits. He asks Okada for advise to use the sword to give Kinshi the opportunity to talk to Saburo, who was believed to be Yoshida. Okada later tells Jiro that he is Saburo. Okada and Isako soon trade the two boys and live a happy life.


  • Jiro: the protagonist who apprentices himself at the Hanaza; he is a clumsy 13-year-old. He was cursed when he was born. He is always very hungry.
  • Hanji: Jiro's father, a craftsman who makes puppets for a living; he is utmost serene.
  • Isako: Jiro's grouchy mother; she blames Jiro for the deaths of his two brothers and sister.
  • Kinshi: Yoshida's son who tutors Jiro in the way of the puppet.
  • Taro: Jiro's neighbor's son, Jiro finds Taro at Jiro's house when his parents are gone.
  • Mochida: young boy who works at the theater; chief left-handed operator; oversees the chores and practices of the other boys


  • "Saburo": spoiler alert Robin-Hood-like figure who robs from the rich and gives to the poor, who is later discovered, in chapter 13, to be Okada.
  • Okada: the blind, wise reciter at the theater; he is discovered to be Saburo in chapter 13
  • Yoshida: the puppet master of the Hanaza; he has a nasty attitude, and beats Kinshi with a bamboo stick.


  1. ^ "National Book Awards – 1977,". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 21 February 2012. (With acceptance speech by Paterson.)