Monday, November 12, 2012

Book Review: Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr; illustrated by Ronald Himler

Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes is a short book that packs an emotional wallop through it's simple narrative. It is the true story of Sadako Sasaki, who was only two years old when the atom bomb fell on her city of Hiroshima, Japan. Now it is nine years later, and she discovers that she has the "atom bomb disease" (leukemia).

The book doesn't focus on any political message, nor does it focus on the war. It is simply the story of a young girl dealing with her own sickness and death, as a result of an event she herself doesn't remember. Nevertheless, this is a tough book for kids and one that sparks discussions about a myriad of topics: war, war on civilians, atomic bombs, cancer, family support during sickness, whether children are trusted with information about their own illness, hope or lack of hope, myths and legends on which people pin their hopes, death, fear of death. And yes, one comes away with a very anti-war feeling of one's own.

I borrowed Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes from the library to read aloud as part of our world history study. Olivia took it off the stack and read it herself before I had the chance to read it aloud. She soon came back with lots of questions. That sparked Karina's curiosity in the book, so she took it off to read. Much, much discussion ensued on all the topics mentioned previously. (Our copy was the original hardcover, pictured to the right, which contains a brief prologue and epilogue. I understand that later versions also contain discussion points. I wish we'd had that version, but we sure managed tons of discussion that sprang naturally from reading the story, even without a guide.)

I suspect this is a story my girls will forever remember.

Karina's response to my query about her reaction to the book was simple, but she takes longer to process thoughts than Olivia. She said: I thought it was really sad, but really good.

Olivia said:
This is a really sad book, but really worth reading. Until I read Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, I didn't even know America had dropped bombs on Japan during World War Two. It made me sad to think of so many people being killed or infected because of it. The story is good. I loved it. I loved that it was about a real girl. And the pictures helped me to understand some things about the story. I liked the legend of the thousand paper cranes, even though they didn't help Sadako. In the end they did help her since the sight of them moving gently on the breeze gave her comfort as she died. I kept hoping she'd get better, but I realized pretty soon that she just wasn't. I'd definitely recommend it. It's one I'd read again. I think this is a book teachers should read to their students. Warning: reading this book will make you cry, especially the end, so read it with a tissue handy. Don't be afraid of crying; you won't regret reading Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes.

Published in 1977 by G.P. Putnam's Sons
Review copy borrowed from the library.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Book Review: Dangerously Ever After by Daska Slater; illustrated by Valeria Docampo

If you're the mother of little girls, you're probably going to encounter princesses at some point in your reading repertoire. This can be delightful or painful, depending on how the author chooses to portray said princesses. The delightful ones get reread with enthusiasm, and the painful, simpering, irritating ones get quietly "lost" in whatever manner deemed necessary.
Never fear, Dangerously Ever After by Dashka Slater and Valeria Docampo will be in the enthusiastically reread category, with no pain involved.

Princess Amanita is not your average princess. She loves all things dangerous, and her garden would make Morticia Addams proud. And then...
"One day, as the princess was watering a patch of itching thistles, a prince from a neighboring kingdom rode up. His name was Florian and he was out looking for for a dragon to slay, or a knight to challenge--or at least someone his own age to talk to."
The prince's arrival sets off a chain of funny events that culminate in the character growth of the princess (and undoubtedly of the young prince, too.)

My girls and I chuckled our way through the appealing absurdity of this refreshingly non-girly princess story. It appealed to my younger princess-loving daughters, and even my older princess-loathing daughter. I can see this being a hit with boys, too, because the traditional princess aspect isn't present. (It will help that the word doesn't feature in the title, but the word "danger" does.) All kids can identify with danger-loving Princess Amanita in some aspect, because at its heart, Dangerously Ever After is the story of a little girl whose way of identifying herself is called into question when she encounters events outside her comfort zone and control, which leads to growth and balance. That sounds heavy, doesn't it? But really that "lesson" is just naturally absorbed into the story.

This is the first book I've read by Dashka Slater, and I'm delighted with the introduction. The story's pacing, language, and length work beautifully as a read-aloud, perfect for ages 4/5 and up. It's one of the few picture books we've read that appeals to all my girls with equal enthusiasm. The illustrations by Valeria Docampo are a delight. Beautiful, vibrant, and fun, they perfectly highlight and compliment the text. The artist's heavy use of blue keeps the fierceness of Amanita's world in check. My girls loved the scorpion tail inspired hair-do, the suit-of-armour dresses, the prince's steed (a bicycle), and the strangely appealing garden.

For what it's worth, my girls and I are giving Dangerously Ever After a hearty thumbs up.

Published in Semptember 2012 by Dial Books For Young Readers
Review copy generously supplied by publisher.

Nominated for the CYBILS 2012 by Charlotte of Charlotte's Library.