Autumn Gardening by Siu Wai Anderson

Teacher Guide by Kristy Littlehale

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Autumn Gardening Lesson Plans

Student Activities for Autumn Gardening Include:

The short story “Autumn Gardening”, by Siu Wai Anderson, gives students a new way to understand “perspective”. Students in the United States are usually given a very Western view of the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima: the bombs helped us win the war. However, in Japan, there were over a hundred thousand people who were killed by these bombs and scores more injured, some for the rest of their lives. The United States showcased its might in an action that did bring World War II to an end; however, it was a decision made with a mighty cost. This is probably why President Truman is said to have agonized over it. This unique perspective of a survivor of one of the bombs is meant to point out to readers that there is always more than one side to a story.

Autumn Gardening Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

“Autumn Gardening” Plot Diagram

Copy Assignment

Students can create a storyboard capturing the narrative arc in a novel with a six-cell storyboard containing the major parts of the plot diagram. For each cell have students create a scene that follows the novel in the sequence using: Exposition, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution.

Example “Autumn Gardening” Plot Diagram


Mariko goes out into her yard in November to do some chores. She has received a letter from her friend Mitsuye who has asked her to come to an anniversary event of the Hiroshima bombings to tell her story.


Mariko is hesitant to agree to Mitsuye’s request. She has a lot of lingering survivor’s guilt, and she does not want to make her status as a survivor known. She’s afraid of losing her health insurance.

Rising Action

As Mariko sits in her yard, she remembers how she and her best friend Mitsuye had been on opposite sides of Hiroshima that day. Mariko blames the scarring on her face for why she never got married, and she feels a flood of fresh guilt at having survived.


Mariko almost trips over a garden rake her brother left in the garage and is overcome by emotions. She flashes back to that fateful day in August 1945, when she was a nurse and had to frantically triage victims of the bombing with dwindling supplies. Eventually, she had to choose between victims who looked like they could be saved, and those who could not.

Falling Action

Mariko continues reading the letter and a phrase stands out to her: “We can speak for the dead.” Mariko begins to wonder if that is why she survived, so she could give a voice to all of the people she watched die that day.


Mariko decides to weed out the garden beds for the spring, and to bear witness alongside Mitsuye next year. This opportunity, she feels, has given her a new purpose in life, just like the flowers will have new life in the spring.

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Create a visual plot diagram of “Autumn Gardening”.

  1. Separate the story into the Exposition, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution.
  2. Create an image that represents an important moment or set of events for each of the story components.
  3. Write a description of each of the steps in the plot diagram.
  4. Save and submit your storyboard.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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“Autumn Gardening” Themes, Symbols and Motifs

Copy Assignment

Themes, symbols, and motifs come alive when you use a storyboard. In this activity, students will identify themes and symbols from the story, and support their choices with details from the text.

Themes and Imagery to Look For and Discuss

The Importance of Bearing Witness

Mitsuye’s letter to Mariko originally makes her feel uncomfortable and unable to do what is being asked of her. Yet, when Mitsuye mentions that they can “speak for the dead”, this hits home for Mariko. She thinks about all of the people she had to watch die, and wonders if by bearing witness about the dangers of nuclear weapons, maybe she can find a purpose for herself. In fact, “bearing witness” is what the Jewish people have done who survived the Holocaust and concentration camps. It’s an important theme for students to remember, because if no one bears witness about the consequences of things like nuclear weapons and prejudice, these are mistakes the world might be doomed to repeat in the future.

Survivor’s Guilt

The narrator remarks that for Mariko, “She often felt as if she were neither dead nor alive, only an organism living out her allotted timespan because fate had chosen not to take her life that day.” For Mariko, the scars on her face from the glass made her an outcast in her uncle’s town of Tomo Village, where the people thought the infected cuts meant that Mariko was bad luck. Rather than disagree with them, or try to stand up for herself, as soon as the cuts heal, she flees Japan. Mariko does not understand why she lived while so many others died that day, which is a common feeling for people who survive mass-tragedies. This guilt keeps Mariko trapped emotionally, but bearing witness might finally give her the opportunity to move on.

Motifs & Symbols

Mariko’s Scars

Mariko’s scars from the glass embedded in her skin which caused nerve damage have given her a permanently cynical twist to her mouth. She feels as if the scars are punishment for the people she had to leave behind when she was triaging the victims of the bombing. They are a constant reminder not only of the horrors of that day, but also of the awful choices she had to make that she is still haunted by to this day.

The Gardening

The yard work, raking leaves, that Mariko does throughout the majority of the story represents her mulling over Mitsuye’s request. While she initially decides she’ll write back the next day and tell her no, as Mariko continues to think back to her experiences on the day of the bombing, she comes to the decision that bearing witness is something she needs to do. After she decides to do it after all, she begins weeding her flowerbeds, preparing them for spring. Spring, typically representing new life and new opportunities, mirrors Mariko’s resolve to give her life new purpose with this opportunity.

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that identifies recurring themes in “Autumn Gardening”. Illustrate instances of each theme and write a short description below each cell.

  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Identify the theme(s) from “Autumn Gardening” you wish to include and replace the "Theme 1" text.
  3. Create an image for examples that represents this theme.
  4. Write a description of each of the examples.
  5. Save and submit your storyboard.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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Finding Perspective Using “Autumn Gardening”

The interesting point of “Autumn Gardening” is that it provides a very different perspective of the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima than most students in the United States have heard. Most know the bombs brought an end to World War II, but many do not realize at what cost. Mariko’s flashbacks give a very detailed, human take on the effects of living through an atomic bomb, and many students likely will begin to wonder about other perspectives on world events.

“Autumn Gardening” is a great way to teach perspective in literature. A way to have fun with perspective is to have students also read The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka. After reading Jon Scieszka’s version of this famous children’s tale, have students take a story they are familiar with, either from a movie, a book, or a child’s tale like the one above. Have them use the Storyboard Creator to do a plot diagram of the same tale told from the bad guy’s perspective. For example, from Sleeping Beauty, the students might choose Maleficent; from Little Red Riding Hood, students might choose the wolf, and so on.

Example Storyboard of The True Story of the Three Little Pigs

  • The Wolf is on trial, fighting for his life. This whole thing has been a misunderstanding! He didn't murder anyone!

  • You see, the Wolf was just trying to make a cake for his granny, and he had a terrible cold. He ran out of sugar for the cake, so he had to go find some!

  • He came to the First Little Pig's house and as he knocked on the door, he sneezed! The house was made of straw, so it fell over... and killed Mr. Pig. The Wolf was hungry, so he wasn't going to let a ham dinner go to waste!

  • The Wolf set off again in search of sugar and came to the Second Little Pig's house. Same deal: sneeze, the house was made of sticks, ham dinner. Still no sugar for granny's cake!

  • Finally, he came to the Third Little Pig's house. Luckily, his house was made of brick, so it didn't fall when the Wolf had another sneezing attack. However, the Third Pig made a derogatory remark about Wolf's granny, so the Wolf tried to break in and fight him.

  • The Wolf was arrested, and he says that the media made up the whole "murder" story because searching for sugar for a cake didn't sound very exciting. The Wolf claims the real story is: he was framed!

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“Autumn Gardening” Summary

One crisp November morning, in New England, Mariko Abe receives a letter from her dear friend Mitsuye. Mitsuye writes to Mariko that she is a member of a group of hibakusha, or Japanese survivors of the Bombs. They have asked her to speak at the following anniversary event, which will be televised. As Mariko reads, she is very detached, happy that her friend has been asked to do something so prestigious, but thinking that Mitsuye is much braver than she is to get up and talk about it. So, when Mitsuye asks Mariko to join her, Mariko freezes.

Mariko flashes back to when she first met Mitsuye on farms in the San Joaquin Valley in California. They had both been sent back to Japan by their families for “good” Japanese educations, and so they were both in Hiroshima the day the bomb was dropped. Mitsuye had married a restaurant owner; Mariko had received training as a nurse. Mariko was two miles away from the bomb when it dropped, and while she survived, tiny slivers of glass embedded themselves in the skin on her face. These and other health problems began to arise as Mariko got older, including progressive asthma. However, she fears telling her doctors about her survivor status because she’s afraid she’ll lose her health insurance.

Mariko’s family had been interned in a camp in California, and the anti-Japanese sentiments after the war shook her. Her family moved to Boston, and after her parents died, she settled near her brother Paul’s house there. Not long after moving to New England, Mariko learned that Mitsuye had also moved east, and was living in Queens, New York. They quickly renewed their friendship. Mitsuye had developed leukemia as a result of the effects of the Bomb, and her husband had died of radiation poisoning.

Mariko struggles with the request in Mitsuye’s letter. Mariko still feels lingering guilt over having to “play God” while searching through the rubble of the Bomb. There were some patients she had to leave because their injuries were too serious, and she was working with quickly-depleting supplies from the hospital. Mariko remembers trying to make her decisions based on what she knew, but the survivor guilt lingers nonetheless, even all of these years later.

Mariko returns to Mitsuye’s letter and the phrase, “We can speak for the dead” jumps out at her. She had never thought of it that way before. Mariko, who had felt empty and alone since the events of the Bomb had scarred her mentally and physically, wonders if she’s finally found a purpose for herself. She wonders if that’s why she survived, so she can speak for the dead.

Mariko returns to her gardening, thinking to herself that maybe she can speak for the victims she tried to help and lost, and for those she left behind. She seems to have found a new resolve by the end of the story.

Essential Questions for “Autumn Gardening”

  1. How does perspective help develop a narrative about a world event?
  2. What is survivor guilt, and why does it happen?
  3. Why is it important for survivors of disastrous events to “bear witness”?

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•   (English) Autumn Gardening   •   (Español) Jardinería Otoño   •   (Français) Jardinage D'automne   •   (Deutsch) Herbst-Gartenarbeit   •   (Italiana) Autunno Giardinaggio   •   (Nederlands) Autumn Gardening   •   (Português) Jardinagem do Outono   •   (עברית) גינון סתיו   •   (العَرَبِيَّة) الخريف الحدائق   •   (हिन्दी) शरद ऋतु बागवानी   •   (ру́сский язы́к) Осеннее Садоводство   •   (Dansk) Efteråret Havearbejde   •   (Svenska) Hösten Garde   •   (Suomi) Syksy Puutarhanhoito   •   (Norsk) Høst Hage   •   (Türkçe) Sonbahar Bahçeleri   •   (Polski) Ogrodnictwo Jesienią   •   (Româna) Gradina de Toamna   •   (Ceština) Podzimní Zahradnictví   •   (Slovenský) Jesenné Záhradníctvo   •   (Magyar) Őszi Kertészeti   •   (Hrvatski) Jesen Vrtlarstvo   •   (български) Есенни Градини   •   (Lietuvos) Ruduo Sodininkystė   •   (Slovenščina) Jesen Vrtnarstvo   •   (Latvijas) Rudens Dārzkopība   •   (eesti) Sügis Aiandus