Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes

By Eleanor Coerr; Puffin Books, 1977; pp 79

Plot: Sadako Sasaki was a baby when the United States Air Force dropped an atomic bomb on Japan. This book is a recount of her short life and her death at age 14 from leukemia and radiation poisoning. The book opens with Sadako preparing for Peace Day, the day of remembrance of those who perished from the bomb. Shortly thereafter, Sadako falls ill with the first symptoms of leukemia and is hospitalized. Her first visitor at the hospital is her best friend, Chizuko. Her friend presents her with an origami crane, a golden crane and plan on how Sadako can recover. Legend has it that an old crane lived one thousand years and if a person folds one thousand cranes, the gods will grant her wish and make her healthy again. Sadako spends her days creating cranes and her brother hands them from the ceiling of her hospital room. Young Sadako’s strength fades and she passes after folding 649 cranes. The story could end there, but Sadako’s classmates folded the remaining cranes and she was buried with the one thousand cranes, Sadako’s story took on a life of its own, and the young girl is immortalized by a statue in Peace Park, with a golden crane in her outstretched crane. Members of a Folded Crane Club place folded cranes beneath her statue on August 6 or Peace Day.

Genre: Biography

Reading Level: 9 and older

Review: Kleenex alert. This short biographical story is a fast read, but the themes are not superficial. Young Sadako falls ill with radiation sickness ten years after the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Sadako’s best friend reminds her that according an ancient legend a golden crane lived one thousand years and if someone folds one thousand cranes, the god will grant a wish. Sadako folds and makes cranes in earnest, but time was not on her side. After Sadako’s death, her classmates complete the cranes. Sadako’s story is immortalized in Japan’s Peace Park, where children to this day leave folder cranes at her statue. The story, without becoming overwrought with political themes, puts a human face on the effects of war and nuclear weapons. My 9-year-old daughter read the story while riding a public bus. Later, we discussed the book and I discovered that she did not understand some of the references to August 6, 1945, and radiation sickness. I would peg the reading level at age 11 and older.

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