Eleanor Coerr

Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes

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Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes Summary

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Set in Japan after World War II, Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes (1977), a children’s historical novel by Canadian-American author Eleanor Coerr, tells the story of Sadako Sasaki who lived in Hiroshima at the time when the United States dropped the atomic bomb. The story deals with the effects of the bomb on Sadako and her family. Sadako was only two years old when the atomic bomb was dropped near her home by Misasa Bridge in Hiroshima, Japan. The book has been translated into many languages and published in many places, to be used for peace education programs in primary schools.

The novel begins on the morning of August 6, 1954, nine years after the bombing took place. Eleven-year-old Sadako runs out into the street and surveys the sky, noting that it is very sunny and there are no clouds. She deems the fair weather a sign of good luck. Sadako goes back inside the house where her younger sister and two brothers are asleep. She decides to wake up her elder brother, Masahiro. He proves difficult to rouse but crawls out of bed once he smells the bean soup cooking in the kitchen. Not long after, Sadako’s sister, Mitsue, and brother, Eiji, awaken and join them.

Sadako runs into the kitchen and begs her mother to hurry up so that they might go all together to the carnival. Her mother scolds her, telling her that it is not a carnival, but Peace Day, a day to remember all those who perished after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Sadako is reminded by her father that her own grandmother met her end on that fateful day.

The Sasaki’s leave home together, making their way to the Peace Day memorial event. Sadako insists that she remembers the feeling of the heat from the atomic bomb, but her best friend Chizuko assures her that is impossible as she was only an infant at the time. In the evening, families write the names of relatives who died from the atomic bomb on paper lanterns. They put candles inside the lanterns and release them onto the Ohta River. Sadako thinks the day truly has brought good luck.

Sadako starts to train with the hopes of making the junior high race team. She notices that she has frequent dizzy spells, especially after long runs. One day in February, she is running in the schoolyard and experiences one of her dizzy spells, sinking to her knees. A teacher rushes over to help her and she is taken to the hospital. Inside the examining room, Sadako is asked many questions. The doctor gives her an X-ray, and it is revealed that Sadako has leukemia and will have to remain in the hospital.

Sadako is devastated by the news, though she knows that it is common for people from her town to have developed leukemia after the atomic bomb; it is often referred to as “atomic bomb disease.” Chizuko visits Sadako in the hospital, bringing her scissors and paper. She shows Sadako how to fold the small piece of paper into the shape of a crane. Chizuko reminds Sadako about the old story of the crane and that if a sick person folds one thousand cranes, the gods will grant the person good health.

As time passes, the leukemia takes a greater toll on Sadako’s body. It saps all of her energy so that she is only able to sit by the window. By June, the rainy season has started and Sadako has lost her appetite entirely. Her mother brings all of her favorite foods to the hospital, but Sadako’s swollen gums prevent her from enjoying the food.

Sadako speaks of her death to her parents and the nurses at the hospital, but everyone tries to encourage her to keep her spirits up and continue fighting. She is given shots and blood transfusions daily, yet she continues to grow weaker. Before bed that night, Sadako only has enough strength to make one crane—six hundred and forty-four. It is the last crane Sadako ever makes. As she thinks often about her death, she reassures her family, telling them not to worry about her. That night, as she is drifting off to sleep, she looks up at all the cranes hanging above her bed and thinks of them as being alive, flying toward freedom.

Sadako Sasaki dies on October 25, 1955. After her death, her classmates gather to finish folding three hundred and fifty-six paper cranes to complete her flock. The one thousand cranes are buried with Sadako in honor of her bravery, her strength, and her belief in good luck.