Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

The Last Cherry Blossom remembers Hiroshima

cherry-blossomThe Last Cherry Blossom, by Kathleen Burkinshaw, (Aug. 2016, Sky Pony Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781634506939

Recommended for ages 10-14

Narrated in the first person by 12 year-old Yuriko, The Last Cherry Blossom tells the story of a family living in Hiroshima during the last year of World War II. Yuriko lives with her widowed father, her aunt Kimiko, and obnoxious 5 year-old cousin, Genji. She and her best friend Machiko stealthily listen to American Jazz records; Machiko’s father got rid of (almost) all of their records because the government wants to be rid of any American influence. She’s used to the air raid drills, even if they annoy her, but when her neighbor is called to fight for Japan, and then Machiko is called to leave school to work at the factory, Yuriko starts feeling the impact of war. She hears whispers from the neighborhood – and her father does run a newspaper – that Japan is not faring as well as the radio and newspapers would have you believe. When the true horror of war is brought to Yuriko’s door, we see, through her eyes, the devastation that the bombing of Hiroshima brought.

The Last Cherry Blossom is powerful. Even as an account of a family’s life during World War II, it’s a strong book, because it shows readers – in parallels we can make today – that the “enemy” isn’t an entire country; an entire group of people. The enemy were children teasing one another, rolling their eyes at annoying aunts and cousins, worried about their parents remarrying, and secretly listening to music that their parents may not approve of. The enemy loved eating sweet treats and held celebrations and cried when they lost people they loved in war, just like we did. Inspired by the author’s mother’s own life living as a child in Hiroshima, Ms. Burkinshaw writes so beautifully, yet packs a literary gut-punch that left me biting back tears.

There has been some strong World War II realistic/historical fiction for middle grade in the last couple of years, for which I am grateful. I’m very happy to see fiction that explores life outside the U.S. during World War II: we need perspective; reminders to look outside ourselves; to see the cost that war demands on everyone.

An author afterword tells readers about the author’s mother, and how her daughter’s class visits eventually led to the book being written. There’s also a bibliography, notes on the use of honorifics in the story, a glossary, and statistics about Hiroshima, complete with sources.

This is a good add to historical and realistic fiction collections. Booktalk with Sandy Brehl’s World War II books, taking place in Norway under the Nazi occupation; Sharon McKay’s End of the Line, taking place in Amsterdam, and most closely related to Burkinshaw’s work, Sadako and the Thousand Cranes (and please have tissues available).

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Author:

I'm a mom, a children's librarian, bibliophile, and obsessive knitter. I'm a pop culture junkie and a proud nerd, and favorite reads usually fall into Sci-Fi/Fantasy. I review comics and graphic novels at WhatchaReading (http://whatchareading.com). I'm also the co-founder of On Wednesdays We Wear Capes (http://www.onwednesdays.net/), where I discuss pop culture and geek fandom from a female point of view.

7 thoughts on “The Last Cherry Blossom remembers Hiroshima

  1. Thank you for the review of this important and powerful book. Another recent book for readers wanting more is Caren Stelson’s SACHIKO, the personal narrative of young girl survivor of the bombing of Nagasaki with historical background information woven throughout. The two books are an amazing combination.

    1. Hi, Nancy! Thank you so much for reminding me about Sachiko – I just bought two copies for my library, and it was on several schools’ reading lists over the summer. I have to check out a copy and read it for myself.

  2. Rosemary, this sounds both tragic and heartening. Those two words, not surprisingly, are two sides of the coin of life during war times. Thanks so much for suggesting my books and others to encourage readers of any age to explore challenges across time and across the globe. This one is on my library hold list now and I look forward to reading it.

    1. Hi Sandy! It’s a brilliant, sensitive, and heartbreaking book, so much like your books are. I agree, these are two sides of the coin; thanks for the insight! I’d love to hear what you think when you read it.

  3. Rosemary, Thank you so very much for your kind words. The way my mother’s story resonated with you touches my heart. It encourages me to continue my presentations for my mother’s wish that readers would learn the danger of nuclear weapons, and my hope that readers will learn that the “enemy” is not necessarily so different from ourselves.

    1. I’m flattered and deeply appreciative that you liked my review. I think these are the books we need, especially in the coming days. We need to make sure kids understand the message that you, your mom, and so many others have to teach us. And thank you so much for creating through the pain. My husband suffers from fibromyalgia, and I see how difficult it can be to get through a day.

      1. I’m so glad that you liked Creating Through The Pain. I feel that if my mom could make it through all she did on August 6th then I could create through my pain and tell her story. I definitely can empathize with your husband. Some days definitely feel longer than others 🙂

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