Written and Illustrated by Toshi Maruki
Lothrop, Lee and Shepard Books, 1980
That morning in Hiroshima the sky was blue and cloudless.
What makes this book so dangerous? Graphic depiction of war
Mii is having breakfast with her mother and father in Hiroshima, a city that was prepared for a potential air raid on this August day in 1945. Suddenly there is a flash of bright light, which came from the atomic bomb dropped by the US bomber Enola Gay. Mii is briefly knocked unconscious and when she wakes up, her house is on fire. Her mother goes into the flames to rescue her father and carries him on her back to the river, holding Mii’s hand. She sees people with their clothes and skin burned away and they keep moving until they have passed another river. She sees a swallow who can’t fly because his wings are burned. A dark sticky rain falls on them and they keep running, until they get outside the city, where they fall asleep on the beach.
When they wake up, four days have gone by and Mii finally drops the chopsticks she was holding to eat her breakfast when the bomb hit. Father goes to a hospital and Mii and her mother return to Hiroshima to discover that it is a complete wasteland. Mii never grows any taller and her mother sometimes finds shreds of glass in her scalp. A couple months after the bomb, Father gets radiation poisoning and dies. Every year, on the anniversary of the bomb, the citizens of Hiroshima write the names of lost loved ones on lanterns and set them in the rivers to float out to sea. Mii writes one for her father and one for the swallow. Her mother assures her it can’t happen again if no one ever drops another bomb.
In a note in the back of the book, author/illustrator Toshi Maruki tells the story of this book’s creation. During an exhibition of pictures of Hiroshima, a woman spoke to her and told the story of her own experience of that day. She explained that no one ever listened to her and then, using a microphone, she told her story to everyone in the gallery and thanked them for listening. Haunted by the woman’s story, Ms. Maruki wrote this book to help contemporary children understand what happened so they can help prevent it from happening again. It’s an amazingly moving and heartbreaking story that had me sobbing.
The watercolor artwork pulls no punches in its depiction of the bombing of Hiroshima. There are dead bodies and naked survivors, people engulfed in flames and drops of blood from the damaged swallow that Mii sees. It puts a human face and a personal family’s story onto the horror of Hiroshima that most of us have only learned about in school. I’ve seen references to this book being challenged for not depicting war as glorious, but I can’t find anything to substantiate that. I have seen criticism for it being too harsh and disturbing and while that’s true, it’s what the author was going for with her decision to share this account of what happened that day. An important event for us to never forget.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that this can never happen again.