Eleanor Coerr wrote Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes in 1977, and it has become a beloved children’s tale, translated into umpteen languages so that children all over the world can learn the heartbreaking true story of a little girl who lived in Hiroshima and was two years old when the United States dropped an atom bomb on her homeland. She seemed fine until she was eleven, when dizzy spells sent her to the hospital, where she was diagnosed with leukemia. It was her friend Chizuko who gave her a paper crane and suggested that Sadako make a thousand of them, based on the Japanese legend that anyone who folded a thousand origami cranes would be granted one wish. In the book, Sadako was able to make only 644 before she died, but friends and family members completed the task and buried Sadako with a thousand paper cranes. However, others say that Sadako did complete a thousand and kept going, but of course she still died.
A statue of Sadako and a crane stands at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum to remind us of all children who have died as a result of war. Every year at 8:15 am (the time the bomb was dropped) the Peace Bell is rung and everyone says silent prayers on behalf of the atomic bomb victims. The Peace Declaration is read aloud, calling for an end to nuclear warfare and promoting peace worldwide. Rather than making the ceremony only about mourning the dead, Peace Day has turned a day of tragedy into one of hope.
And on the fourth floor in the children’s section of Berkeley’s main library downtown we commemorated Peace Day a day early by reading excerpts aloud from Coerr’s book, accompanied by four people playing koto, a Japanese stringed instrument that is truly marvelous to look at. After the reading, children and parents made origami cranes with out of paper provided by the library with the goal of folding one thousand to send to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. Art and music librarian Debbie Carton arranged for the musicians and readers, and she even brought her own mother, Joy, and daughter, Audrey, to read portions of the story and fold cranes.
At the end of the story, all the readers said the prayer together:
This is our cry
This is our prayer
Peace in the world
Heiwa no inori
It was a beautiful way to remember a tragedy. By keeping the memories alive, maybe we can ensure that nuclear war won’t happen again.