Eleanor Coerr, whose Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes (Puffin, 1977) introduced children to the true story of a Japanese girl who suffered from the effects of an atomic bomb attack, died November 22. She was 88.
Eleanor Coerr has died at 88.
The inspiring book follows Sadako Sasaki, who was two-years-old when the United States dropped an atom bomb on Hiroshima during the final stages of World War II in 1945. It chronicles Sasaki as a healthy schoolgirl winning relay races, through her diagnosis with leukemia, and her long stay in the hospital. She died a decade after the attack at the age of 12.
While in the hospital, Sasaki began making origami cranes to pass the time. Her ultimate goal was to make 1,000, but, according to the book, she died with only 644 completed. Sasaki's classmates finished making the remaining cranes, and all 1,000 were buried with her.
Sasaki's classmates started a national campaign to build a peace statue to remember her and the many other children who were victims of the Hiroshima bombing. To help raise money, they sold copies of a photocopied and staple-bound autobiography of Sasaki called Kokeshi. To this day, the statue of Sasaki, erected in 1955, is decorated with thousands of paper cranes given by people from all over the world.
Coerr learned of the story while living in Japan after the war and visitingHiroshima's Peace Memorial Park. A missionary friend who had a copy of Sasaki's autobiography encouraged Coerr to write about the girl, who is sometimes referred to as the Anne Frank of Hiroshima.
American school children learned about Sasaki through the 1977 publication of Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, and teachers quickly incorporated the book into lessons about the horrors of war and the art of origami. The book has been translated into many languages and each year on August 6, Peace Day, thousands of paper cranes made by children from numerous countries are placed at Sasaki's statue.
"This slim book of 80 pages, written in very simple language, presents [Sasaki's] heart-wrenching story," said literary critic Anita Silvey on October 25, the 55th anniversary of Sasaki's death. "A three-handkerchief story, it will always work for those readers who request a sad book. It even ends with the line, 'She never woke up.' By showing the effect of a war on the life of a vibrant and attractive child, Eleanor Coerr wrote a powerful book that advocates for peace."
Coerr was born in 1922 in Kamsack, Saskatchewan, Canada, and grew up in Saskatoon. She began her professional life as a newspaper reporter and editor of a column for children. She also wrote The Big Balloon Race (HarperCollins, 1984) and Mieko and the Fifth Treasure (Penguin, 1993).
In May of this year, Coerr attended a ceremony at New York's Tribute World Trade Center Visitor Center, where Sasaki's brother presented one of the original cranes folded by his sister.schoollibraryjournal.com