Friday 18 March 2016

Sadako by Eleanor Coerr

This week my new book on Armistice Day is being launched, and it seemed a good time to review this book on Sadako and her work for peace. 

Sadako by Eleanor Coerr, illustrated by Ed Young (Margaret Hamilton Books, 1995)

45 pages with full-page colour illustrations

Subjects: World War Two, Japan, Hiroshima, nuclear war, bombs, family, picture books

A longer version for older children is called Sadako and the thousand paper cranes

Sadako Sasaki was just two years old when the atomic bomb was dropped over her home town, Hiroshima, in 1945. She was an ordinary little girl, surrounded by a loving family, and a keen runner. The story starts with her waking up in August 1954, excited about the Peace Day events at the Peace Park. In the evening, she writes the name of her grandmother who died in the bomb blast and launches it on the river where it floats along amidst rice-paper lanterns lit up by candles.

But when she was 11, Sadako started experiencing dizzy spells and was diagnosed with leukaemia, “the atom bomb disease”. By February 1955, she was in hospital.

One day, Sadako’s best friend Chizuko came to visit her in hospital. Chizuko brought paper and scissors and cut a piece of gold paper into a square. She folded it into a paper crane and told Sadako the old Japanese story about how anyone who folded 1000 cranes would be granted a wish. Sadako knew what her wish would be to get better, so she started folding paper cranes.

Sadako didn’t get her wish and she died a few months later, on 25 October 1955, ten years after the atomic bomb was dropped.  But her name lives on, thanks to her determination, her hope for peace and her wish for a better future, and her paper cranes have now become a symbol of peace. After she died, Japanese children helped to raise money for the Children’s Peace Memorial which now stands in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, with a statue of Sadako on the top, often surrounded and decorated by thousands of paper cranes from all around the world. At the base is written: “This is our cry, this is our prayer. Peace in the world”.

There is a lovely photo of Sadako and one of her paper cranes here

You can read more here about some of the original paper cranes, kept by her brother. 

This review on  The children's war has a picture of Sadako with her relay team and calls it an “a perfect book for introducing this difficult topic to young readers. There are no detailed graphic images described about the war, the bomb or even to after effects, only an acknowledgement of these things. There is some controversy over whether or not Sadako actually did finish folding 1,000 cranes. Regardless of whether she did or didn't, there is much to be learned from Sadako's story.

Sadako, in the middle of the front row, with her relay team

About the author
This is a nice start to Eleanor Cooer's bio on the Penguin website: “Eleanor Coerr was born in Kamsack, Saskatchewan, Canada, and grew up in Saskatoon. Two of her favorite childhood hobbies were reading and making up stories.” It also describes how her fascination with Japan began as a child, her first visit to Japan – and to Hiroshima - as a young reporter, and how she finally managed to get hold of a copy of Sadako’s autobiography, Kokeshi. so she could start writing her own book.

She died in  2010 and you can read her obituary here

About the illustrator
Ed Young was born in China and later moved to Hong Kong, then went to the United States on a student visa to study architecture, but became an artist instead.  He says he draws inspiration from the philosophy of Chinese painting: “There are things that words do that pictures never can, and likewise, there are images that words can never describe.”

Other books you might like:
Hiroshima no pika, written and illustrated by Toshi Maruki, also tells the story of the day the bomb fell. 

How to make paper cranes
You can learn how to make your own paper cranes here
Or here (with an address for where to send them). 
Or here (also with an address). 

You can learn more about Sadako at the Kids Peace Station, Hiroshima.

Tuesday 1 March 2016

Five children on the Western Front by Kate Saunders

Five children on the Western Front by Kate Saunders (Faber & Faber, 2014)

24 chapters; 318 pages

Subjects: World War One, France, England, children, fantasy, Edith Nesbit, Five children and it, Psammead, junior fiction (Year 5-8)

This book came out to much acclaim as “an epic, heart-wrenching follow-on from E. Nesbit’s Five children and It stories” (from the back cover) and won the Costa Children’s Book of the Year award.

Five Children and It was published in 1902, with two sequels: The phoenix and the carpet (1904) and The story of the amulet (1906). I read them all as a child and loved them, although I haven’t looked at them again for a long time and I’m not sure if they are as widely read today.

In the Prologue (set in 1905, and adapted from a chapter of The story of the amulet), Cyril is 12, Anthea 11, Robert 9, Jane 7 and the (youngest child) Lamb – actually Hilary – is still a baby. By the start of WW1 in 1914, they are old enough, in some cases, to go off and fight, or volunteer as a VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) .

Because Cyril and Anthea are almost grown up and often away, Kate Saunders adds another child (Edie, aged 9) and she and the Lamb/Hilary, now 11, become the main characters. The two of them rediscover the Psammead (a grumpy, wish-granting sand fairy - “you pronounce it Sammy-ad”) and he stays with them for almost the duration of the war. The story gets sadder and the mood more sombre as it gets closer to the end.

The idea behind the book – bringing these children from their Edwardian childhood into the horrors of WW1 – is very clever. I did wonder if the theme of the  Psammead’s “repentance” could be confusing for children.

The Guardian calls it a “respectful homage” and says that “transplanting E Nesbit’s much-loved characters into the trenches tugs at the heartstrings in a way statistics can’t”.

“For all Saunders's delight in channelling Nesbit's Edwardian sensibilities, this is not a nostalgic book. It asks questions about lost innocence and the kind of stories we used to tell ourselves. Saunders dedicates her book "To all the boys and girls, 1914-18". Nesbit described her characters as "not bad sorts on the whole; in fact, they were rather like you". The same can be said, Saunders implies, about the doomed generation that met its fate in Flanders fields.”

About the author
In this interview in the Telegraph, Kate Saunders talks about events in her own life that background the story; some of it is very moving, and it made me think about the book in a different way.

There’s another interview with her here on BBC news.

About E Nesbit
The Edith Nesbit Society has its own website where you can read sedate biography of Edith Nesbit (1858-1924). 

But this article in the Guardian paints a rather racier (and sadder) picture of her life.

Other books you might like:
Edith Nesbit also wrote the much-loved classic The railway children, published in 1906 and never out of print since.