This past week, Eleanor Coerr, author of Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes passed away; she was 88. The story of Sadako should be well-known, if not in detail, at least by relation to WWII, Japan, and the atom bomb. The story centers on Sadako, born in Hiroshima, Japan. A natural-born runner, 11 year old Sadako loves to race and is on the relay team at her school. Sadako begins to have dizzy spells and one even lands her in the hospital. Heartbreakingly enough, Sadako finds out that she has leukemia from radiation caused by the atom bomb—that was detonated ten years earlier!
While in the hospital, Sadako questions the disease and why it took so long to surface, the use of the atom bomb, and if she will ever be able to run again. Her family visits often, one time bringing in all her favorite foods to try to coerce her into eating after she loses her appetite. Her best friend comes to visit her and that’s when she decides to make 1000 paper cranes because a Japanese legend says that if an ill person folds one thousand paper cranes, the gods will grant the person’s wish to be well again.
Sadako’s health flip-flops as she continues to fold paper cranes. She makes it to 644 cranes before she becomes too weak to fold anymore and soon after, she passes away. (Geez, I can’t even write this last part without tearing up!) As a tribute to Sadako, her friends folded the remaining cranes to total 1000 and buried them with her. Her friends and schoolmates held fundraisers to make enough for a statue to remember Sadako and all those who died because of the effects of the atom bomb—you can see the memorial in Hiroshima’s Peace Park. The plaque on the statue reads,
This is our cry. This is our pray. Peace in the world.
This book has meant a lot to me and I found its message so touching and necessary that it was a yearly read at the book club I facilitated for children at Borders. All the kids really enjoyed the book, even if it did make them sad. They really loved making paper cranes, which I then strung together and sent to the Peace Park in Japan so that they could be placed by Sadako’s statue. We even received a letter back thanking us for our contribution to peace.
I think this book should be required reading of every human being…and more than once!
Resources available for educators:
Coerr, E. (1999). Sadako and the thousand paper cranes. New York, NY: Putnam Penguin.