Happy National Poetry Month, everyone. According to Poets.Org, it’s the 25th anniversary!
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.
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.”
By Toi Derricotte
I went down to
mingle my breath
with the breath
of the cherry blossoms.
There were photographers:
Mothers arranging their
gnarled old trees;
a couple, hugging,
asks a passerby
to snap them
so that their love
will always be caught
between two friendships:
ours & the friendship
of the cherry trees.
why can’t my poems
be as beautiful?