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Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr

On August 6, 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima in Japan. It was done near the end of World War II in an attempt to make Japan surrender. Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, which takes place 9 years later in 1954, is the true story about a young girl who got leukemia as a result of the poisons emitted in the air when the bomb was dropped. Hers is a story of family, friendship, and hope.

Student Activities for Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes

Essential Questions for Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes

  1. What are the effects that the atom bomb had on Sadako and her family?
  2. What is the significance of the cranes?
  3. What are some ways that Sadako coped with her illness?

Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes Summary

Eleven year old Sadako loves to run. She has long legs and is fast, making her the perfect addition to the relay team on Field Day. She knows that if she practices hard enough and runs fast enough, her team would win. During the race, Sadako feels dizzy and strange, but she shakes it off and tells no one. Her team wins, and Sadako has real hopes of making the junior high team next year.

The dizzy spells come and go, but one day in the school yard, Sadako cannot hide her secret any longer. When her teacher sees that she is dizzy and out of breath, her father is called and she is taken to the hospital. It is at the hospital that Sadako’s life changes: she has leukemia, a cancer of the blood that is known as the “atom bomb disease.” Sadako had heard of this illness that people got because of the bombing many years ago, but she could not believe it was happening to her; to her family. Her dreams of running seem to fade away as she learns she must spend at least a few weeks in the hospital.

One day, her best friend Chizuko brings Sadako a golden paper crane and several pieces of paper. She tells Sadako an old story of the crane, and how it's supposed to live for a thousand years. She says that it is said that if a sick person folds a thousand paper cranes, the gods will make them healthy again. With Chizuko’s help, Sadako begins folding, with her hope restored.

Time goes by, visitors come and go, and Sadako’s brother, Masahiro promises to hang each and every crane from the hospital room ceiling. When she feels well, Sadako spends her days completing school work, writing letters, and enjoying the company of visitors. In the evenings she makes cranes. As her energy fades, though, Sadako has more and more trouble completing these tasks.

Near the end of July, Sadako begins to feel a little better. Her appetite returns and she is able to go home for several days. However, her pain and weakness return, and she must go back to the hospital. Sadako receives painful shots and blood transfusions almost daily, and she wants so badly to continue fighting. One day, her mother gifts her with a beautiful kimono; when she tries it on, Sadako feels and looks like a princess.

Crane number 644 was the last Sadako would ever make. She died on October 25, 1955. Sadako’s classmates folded the remaining 356 cranes so that she could be buried with all 1,000. Sadako’s friends had a dream of building a monument to honor Sadako and those who lost their lives because of the atom bomb. Their dream came true in 1958, when a statue of Sadako was unveiled in Hiroshima Peace Park; her arms are stretched out and she is holding a golden paper crane.

Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes allows teachers and students to learn about the effects of war and the toll that the atom bomb took on Japan in 1945 and many years following. This book can be used as part of a history lesson or as a novel study in ELA. Students and teachers alike will be in awe of Sadako’s courage, and the heroine that she has become.

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How To Discuss the After Effects of Atomic Bombing With Younger Students


Explain in Simple Terms

Steer clear of jargon and difficult words. Use plain language that students can comprehend. When communicating difficult ideas, analogies, and metaphors can be helpful. Use general terms that students are already aware of and ensure everyone is understanding and participating in the discussions.


Talk About Bombs

In order to ensure a smooth flow of the lecture, start the discussion generally about atomic bombs. Teachers can discuss the historical context, the invention, the people involved, the significance, and the usage. There are a lot of other aspects that need to be explained in order to discuss the impacts, so teachers can use mind maps or spider webs to visualize the idea and make it easier for students.


Discuss Short Term Impacts

Firstly, discuss with the students the meaning of “short-term”. Teachers can explain what time period is considered short-term, give some other examples, and then build towards explaining the short-term impacts of a bombing. These impacts can be loss of life, destruction of infrastructure, decline of economy, etc.


Discuss Long Term Impacts

Similarly, explain “long-term” first and then discuss the long-term impacts of a bombing. Teachers can discuss the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to help students understand the long-term physical and psychological impacts these cities are still suffering from.


Encourage Empathy

Encourage the students to empathize with the victims of the bombings and be respectful while discussing these events. Students can read stories and hear from families of the victims to understand their perspectives and discover new aspects.

Frequently Asked Questions About Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr

What is the summary of “Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes”?

In the book, Sadako Sasaki, a little girl from Hiroshima, is diagnosed with leukemia after being exposed to radiation from the atomic bomb. After hearing about a story from her friend, Sadako wants to fold a thousand paper cranes in order to gain a wish.

Is the story of "Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes" true?

Yes, the tale of Sadako Sasaki, a genuine girl who lived in Hiroshima after the atomic blast, is the basis for the novel. There is also a statue of Sadako in Hiroshima Peace Park today which is a symbol of her hopes and dedication to all those who suffered because of the bombing.

What is the significance of a thousand paper cranes in the story?

According to a Japanese myth, a person can get one wish if they can fold a thousand paper cranes. As Sadako was desperate to get well and live her life without the illness, she wanted to fold a thousand paper cranes. These paper cranes were not solely folded for the purpose of a wish but they had much more significance as a symbol of hope.

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