Elizabeth Coerr's Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes
Children's book review by Steve Barancik
Eleven year old Sadako Sasaki can run fast. As Hiroshima's annual Peace Day arrives in 1954, running is the main thing on her mind.
Success in an upcoming relay race could cement her place on the track team when she moves on to junior high school next year.
To Sadako, Peace Day is a little more than a holiday to look forward to, featuring cotton candy. Only two years old when the bomb fell, its meaning is largely lost on her. When she sees survivors, with their ghostly white scars, she turns away.
Her father leads prayers every day in which the family mourns their lost and asks to be left untouched by the radiation disease - leukemia - which still befalls natives of Hiroshima all these years after the blast.
After winning her relay race, Sadako grows dizzy. It is the first sign of the leukemia that will eventually strike her down.
Click through to a photo that might
bring tears to your eyes
Sadako soon finds herself in hospital. There are people who survive the sickness, so she has hope. Her best friend, Chizuko, indulges Sadako's love of good luck charms by presenting her with a golden paper crane. Chizuko shares with Sadako the legend that a person who folds no less than a thousand paper cranes will recover from whatever ails her.
Sadako sets out to do just that, but the disease fells her three hundred or so cranes short of her goal.
Is Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes a sad book? Perhaps, but certainly not a morose one. Sadako makes a peaceful and reassuring journey to acceptance of her fate before she dies, and there's little in the book that would provoke fear.
The book certainly feels of a different place and time than our own. We never see Sadako wallowing in self-pity, nor do we witness modern medicine having its way with her before she passes. Sadako's culture seems to accept death in a way we struggle with today.
That's one of the things that strikes me as most valuable about this book. Wouldn't we wish a dying child inner peace and acceptance? Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes shows the way.
Clearly I'm not alone in my respect for this book. Sadako is very popular in the schools, and study guides abound.
So know that Sadako isn't just for dying children. Her book can make the prospect of death less scary for healthy children. It can teach them empathy and appreciation as well.
After Sadako's death, her classmates honored her by folding enough paper cranes to reach a thousand. In 1958, a statue in Hiroshima's Peace Park was erected in her honor. On Peace Day, thousands of paper cranes are placed beneath it.
(The photo toward the top of the page is from Seattle's Peace Park, where children bring lots of paper cranes as well.)
My book has a How To for folding a paper crane at the back. Yours might not, but don't worry! You can find plenty of How To's just by Googling.
To my mind, Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes is a book about hope and one's spirit living on. Thank you, Sadako!
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