One of the ways I choose children's books is to read as many of the Award Winning books as possible each year. A great way to find award winners for you and your children is by visiting the American Library Association Website.
Heart of a Samurai written by Margi Preus is one of four 2011 Newbery Honor Books. I wasn't sure how I was going to like it because much of the book is set on a whaling ship. I still have very vivid and bad memories of having to read Moby Dick in high school (and over Christmas vacation at that). I list it as my least favorite book of all time.
Heart of a Samurai is different. It has heart! Give it a try--I think you might just like it as much as I did.