By Carol Hinz, Editorial Director of Millbrook Press and Carolrhoda Books
August 9, 2020, marks the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, Japan. It also marks the 75th anniversary of the extraordinary survival of Sachiko Yasui—a six-year-old girl who was nine hundred meters (about half a mile) from the hypocenter in Nagasaki when the bomb exploded. Sachiko experienced great hardship and loss, and she grew up to become a peace advocate. Caren Stelson has told Sachiko’s story for middle grade readers in the award-winning Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story. And today we’re releasing A Bowl Full of Peace: A True Story, in which Caren tells Sachiko’s story in picture book form. Illustrated by Japanese artist Akira Kusaka, the book has already received starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews, Booklist, and the Horn Book Magazine. Today, Caren shares her thoughts about how Sachiko’s story is relevant as students begin returning to school (in whatever form it may take) in the midst of a global pandemic.
Editor’s note: Caren has written a lovely and thoughtful overview of the parallels between war and the current pandemic below. You can also tune in for our conversation with her on The Lerner Podcast to hear a slightly different take – see the audio player at the bottom of this article.
How will teachers and their students come together after a pandemic summer apart?
How can teachers bring children into the security of caring circles? How will teachers—whether teaching in the classroom or at the computer—help their students heal from upheaval? I suggest beginning with A Bowl Full of Peace.
Talking about the tragedies of World War II may seem like an unlikely place to begin a school year, but A Bowl Full of Peace has many parallels to the COVID-19 world we are navigating. The coronavirus pandemic, like a war, has created disruption, hardship, struggle, pain, and loss.
Clinical child psychologist Dr. Angela Narayan at the University of Denver has written about children’s resilience following mass trauma such as a war or a natural disaster—or a world pandemic. Her work underscores the importance of nurturing family relationships to promote recovery and resilience in children following exposure to traumatic events. I asked Dr. Narayan how adults can best support children during COVID-19. Dr. Narayan answered, “Oftentimes, children’s adaptation following trauma is linked to their parents’ health, functioning, and well-being. Promoting resilience in parents is as important as promoting resilience in their children.” In A Bowl Full of Peace, Sachiko and her family can teach us about resilience and pathways through turmoil.
War threatens young Sachiko’s world, but each evening her family gathers for dinner. In the middle of their table sits Grandmother’s bowl, a ceramic bowl shaped like a leaf—a precious heirloom passed from Sachiko’s grandmother to her mother. As the war continues, the amount of food in Grandmother’s bowl diminishes, but Sachiko and her family always press their hands together, bow their heads, and whisper, “itadakimasu,” in gratitude. Each time we see the family sharing a meal, illustrator Akira Kusaka uses soft colors and a circle to frame the family in love and security.
In our own pandemic time, this is what our children need too: loving adults, security, and gratitude.
In the aftermath of the atomic bombing, Sachiko’s three brothers die. Sachiko, her younger sister Misa, and their parents leave Nagasaki for a time and experience severe radiation sickness. When they finally return to Nagasaki, they go to the place where their home had been. Father begins to dig through the rubble, and he miraculously unearths Grandmother’s bowl. The bowl has survived without a crack or chip. And so it becomes even more precious. As Sachiko once told me, the bowl has the fingerprints of all the members of her family on it.
The family rebuilds their home. When August 9th comes again, Sachiko’s mother fills the bowl with ice chips and says, “We must never forget what happened on this day. Remember how a chip of ice eased our thirst. . . . We must pray that such a terrible war never happens again.”
Memories honoring loved ones, rituals, and prayers for hope and peace—our children living through COVID times need these too.
In the years after the bombing, Sachiko loses more family members. Her sister dies of leukemia. Then her father dies of liver cancer. After Sachiko’s mother dies in 1992, Sachiko is the only living member of her family to have survived the bombing. On the fiftieth anniversary of the end of World War II, she is asked to speak about her experiences. Sachiko reaches deep within herself to reflect. As she shares her story with children, Sachiko discovers a greater purpose for her life—to be a peacemaker.
Our children can learn from Sachiko that terrible things happen. But those experiences can form who we are, who we may become, and what beautiful gifts we might offer to the world.
If teachers begin with A Bowl Full of Peace, how might they conclude this time with their students? I’d suggest placing a bowl in the middle of a table, on a classroom rug, or in a photo on Zoom, Google Hangout, or other whatever technology you may be using.
Then ask questions:
What will we put in our Bowl Full of Peace today? What about next week?
If kindness is suggested, you can ask: What does kindness look like? What does it feel like? What can you do to be kind today?
What about empathy? Gratitude? Forgiveness? Hope? Peace?
How can everything in our Bowl Full of Peace help us in this time of a global pandemic? How can we come out of this difficult time stronger and more compassionate than ever?
Finally, what about Sachiko? She is still living in Nagasaki. She had a stroke in 2013 and lives in a nursing home with a beautiful view of a forested hillside. While her public work as a peace advocate is done, she is proud that her story continues to to reach new people in book form. On August 9, 2020, she will remember her Grandmother’s bowl filled with ice chips and will pray for peace.
If you’ve been touched by Sachiko’s story and would like to share your Bowl Full of Peace with us on social media, please tag us @LernerBooks and use the hashtag #bowlfullofpeace.