Thursday, 15 April 2021

Happy National Poetry Month, everyone. According to Poets.Org, it’s the 25th anniversary!

Jama Kim Rattigan at Jama’s Alphabet Soup is hosting Poetry Friday this week. You know Jama will be serving up something scrumptious!

For the next few weeks, I will be featuring Asian American authors on my blog as part of the annual #AuthorsTakeAction initiative.

In each post, I’ll share a recommended middle grade or YA novel by an Asian American author and a read-alongside poem.


This week’s featured book is The Last Cherry Blossom by Kathleen Burkinshaw.

According to Goodreads:

Following the seventieth anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, this is a new, very personal story to join Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes.

Yuriko was happy growing up in Hiroshima when it was just her and Papa. But her aunt Kimiko and her cousin Genji are living with them now, and the family is only getting bigger with talk of a double marriage! And while things are changing at home, the world beyond their doors is even more unpredictable. World War II is coming to an end, and Japan’s fate is not entirely clear, with any battle losses being hidden fom its people. Yuriko is used to the sirens and the air-raid drills, but things start to feel more real when the neighbors who have left to fight stop coming home. When the bomb hits Hiroshima, it’s through Yuriko’s twelve-year-old eyes that we witness the devastation and horror.

This is a story that offers young readers insight into how children lived during the war, while also introducing them to Japanese culture. Based loosely on author Kathleen Burkinshaw’s mother’s firsthand experience surviving the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, The Last Cherry Blossom hopes to warn readers of the immense damage nuclear war can bring, while reminding them that the “enemy” in any war is often not so different from ourselves.

My take:

Yuriko’s story is beautifully told. I was drawn in by her gentleness, the conflicts in her blended family, and the changes Yuriko faces at the close of World War II. The reader experiences not only her love of her Papa, her fondness for her best friend, her worries about the impending wedding, but also her shock, horror, and grief when the atomic bomb falls.

Kathleen Burkinshaw has spoken at the United Nations and appeared with disarmament experts as a part of sharing her mother’s story. (Watch a video here.) My kid and I watched a livestream of her chatting with mystery writer Naomi Hirahara (also a child of Hiroshima survivor) through the Japanese American National Museum. What an enlightening conversation!

Kathleen has become a good friend. To me, her social justice efforts in sharing her mother’s story are heroic.

If you’d like a poem to read alongside this book, I recommend Toi Derricotte’s “Cherry blossoms.”

Cherry blossoms
By Toi Derricotte

I went down to
mingle my breath
with the breath
of the cherry blossoms.

There were photographers:
Mothers arranging their
children against
gnarled old trees;
a couple, hugging,
asks a passerby
to snap them
like that,
so that their love
will always be caught
between two friendships:
ours & the friendship
of the cherry trees.

Oh Cherry,
why can’t my poems
be as beautiful?

Read the rest at Poets.Org.

Next week, I’ll be featuring the middle grade novel Not Your All-American Girl by Madelyn Rosenberg and Wendy Wan-Long Shang.

46 responses to “Poetry Friday: The Last Cherry Blossom”

  1. Kimberly Hutmacher says:

    The poem is as gorgeous as the cherry blossoms themselves. Thanks for sharing, Laura.

  2. What a gorgeous poem and a powerful pairing, Laura. Thank you!

  3. Linda Mitchell says:

    This book is on my TBR pile! Thanks for the review and the poem pairing. I love to do that for my students too.

  4. Ooh, thanks for the introduction to Burkinshaw’s book and Derricotte’s poem, Laura! 🙂

  5. Linda Baie says:

    It’s a new title to me, Laura, & a new poem. I love the detail ‘snapshots’. I’ve often wanted to see those cherry blossoms, anywhere! There are few here in Denver & I miss the ones in Missouri where I grew up. After the blossoms, seeing the cherries was wonderful, too. I’m happy to hear about the book!

    • Laura Shovan says:

      Washington DC is a short drive away from where I live, but we haven’t been to see the famous cherry blossoms for the past two years.

      It is a beautiful book, though harrowing. I hope you’ll have a chance to read it.

    • I hope you will enjoy reading TLCB. There are not many cherry blossom trees near my house either . I hope to someday return to Hiroshima during cherry blossom season. 🙂

  6. jama says:

    Beautiful poem and thanks for spotlighting Kathleen’s book. Looking forward to more novel + poem sharings here. 🙂

  7. As an elementary teacher, I’m not as up to speed on YA and MG books as I’d like to be. Enjoying all this new info. Cherry blossoms always bring a smile to my face, too. Thank you, Laura!

    • Laura Shovan says:

      Thanks for the comment, Christie. This book is a must read for everyone (in my opinion!) but especially for kids who are interested in the history of World War II.

  8. I would love to read Burkinshaw’s book. It sounds fascinating. Such a tragic time. Such a horrible event. Cherry blossoms became special to me after I lived in D.C. for several years a long while ago. The masses of them were so gorgeous down by the monuments.

    • Laura Shovan says:

      They are gorgeous and not too far from us here in central MD. I heard there is a “stay in your car” tour for vistiors this year.

    • Thank you Janice for your interest in reading TLCB. I have only seen pictures of the beautiful cherry blossoms in D.C. I would love to see them in person someday! 🙂

  9. Irene Latham says:

    Lovely, Laura, and goes with my van Gogh almond blossoms this week. Thank you for sharing. xo

  10. Ruth says:

    Such a beautiful poem! And the book sounds excellent, too.

  11. Gorgeous poem, and I’m putting The Last Cherry Blossom on my TBR list–thanks for introducing it!

  12. I’m very taken by the book, and I listened to the beginning of the video presentation, thanks for sharing them both. Thanks also for this sensitive poem, a reminder for us to remember and “Be patient.”

  13. Cathy M says:

    “Oh Cherry,
    why can’t my poems
    be as beautiful?”

    A lofty goal, indeed.

    Thank you for the lovely pairing. I look forward to checking the book out as well.

  14. Your idea of pairing novels and poems is inspired, and I’m right there beside Toi Derricotte down at the basin. Thanks for this!

  15. Mary Lee says:

    That book is on my TBR! How fabulous to pair it with a poem. And what a poem! That first stanza! The father tipping back the wheelchair. The italicized bits. Thanks!

  16. Janet F. says:

    I love this post, Laura. Thank you for such detailed information. I once met a woman who was a survivor. She was pretty elderly when she visited our school and shared. What a horrible time. I will read this book.

  17. Laura, thank you so very much for your kind words about The Last Cherry Blossom and your compassion for my mother’s story. I am so grateful that you paired Toi Derricotte’s beautiful poem with TLCB. Her words mesh well with the idea of being present and holding those treasured memories in our hearts because circumstances may change in an instant (especially so for my mom during the war). Those same memories can later remind us of the beauty that can be possible once again. Thank you again for showcasing The Last Cherry Blossom on your blog and your friendship-something I treasure. <3

    • Laura Shovan says:

      Hi, Kathleen. Thank you for stopping by and taking the time to reply to everyone. Your work is so important — your book but also the advocacy you do in sharing your mother’s story. And your friendshp is a gift!

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Laura Shovan

Laura Shovan is the author of the award-winning middle grade novel, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary. Her second book, Takedown, is a Junior Library Guild and PJ Our Way selection. Look for A Place at the Table, co-written with Saadia Faruqi, in 2020. Laura is a poet-in-the-schools Maryland.

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