Thursday, 12 October 2017

Hiroshima no pika written and illustrated by Toshi Maruki

Hiroshima no pika written and illustrated by Toshi Maruki (translation of the same Japanese title; New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1980)

48 pages with colour illustrations, sometimes full page double spreads

Subjects: World War Two, Hiroshima, atomic bomb, anti-war books, Japan, picture books (Year 6-8)

Image result for Hiroshima no pika


This is based on a first-person account that the author heard when he was holding an exhibition of pictures about the atomic bomb in a small town in Hokkaido.

It begins with a cloudless blue morning in Hiroshima, with streetcars picking up people on their way to work and the seven rivers flowing quietly through the city. Seven-year-old Mii and her parents are breakfasting on sweet potatoes “brought in the day before by cousins who lived in the country” when the bomb falls at 8.15am on August 6, 1945. Mii’s mother carries her injured husband on her back across the city, across rivers and all the way to the coast, where they stay for days until he is taken into a makeshift hospital: “no doctors, no medicine, no bandages – only shelter.” 

The illustrations are stylised but portray a powerful sense of the horror of the event, and the consequent suffering, partly through the lurid and unnatural colours of the skies and surroundings.

This is a terrible event, and parts of the text would be upsetting to younger (or even older) children: the mother carrying a dead baby, the floating bodies, the wasteland of the city, Mii’s father’s death, the glass slivers that poke their way out of her scalp in years to come.

Look out for the red chopsticks that Mii clutches for days after the Flash, until her mother manages to prise them from her grip. It’s a clever way to identify her on each page, but also hints at the hidden trauma she has undergone.

The book feeds in some factual details about the atomic bomb and ends with the lantern memorial service held each year on the seven rivers. I couldn’t see a translation of the title anywhere – maybe I missed it – but it means The Flash of Hiroshima.  

An entry in Kirkus reviews is always prestigious. “Japanese artist and antiwar activist Maruki manages to avoid the opposing perils of giving children nightmares and belittling the horror.”

About the author
Toshi Maruki (1912–2000) was born in Hokkaido and studied Western art at the Joshibi Women's School of Art and Design.
“I am now past seventy years old. I have neither children nor grandchildren. But I have written this book for grandchildren everywhere. It took me a very long time to complete it. It is very difficult to tell young people about something bad that happened in the hope that their knowing will help keep it from happening again.”

Maruki Gallery for the Hiroshima Panels, established by husband and wife Iri and Toshi Maruki, "is famous for its message for peace all over the world". The artist couple went into Hiroshima city just three days after the bombing and spent 30 years painting the 15 panels.

Other books you might like:
Sadako by Eleanor Coerr, illustrated by Ed Young, also tells of a young girl in Hiroshima. 

Things I didn’t know
I didn’t know that other Japanese cities like Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya had already experienced air raids, so the people of Hiroshima were readying for them by storing water and making evacuation plans. There is a sad poignancy in the statement that “Everyone carried small bags of medicine and when they were out of doors, wore air-raid hats or hoods to protect their heads.”

Have you read it?
Have you read this book? Let me know what you think!

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