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.
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.