The anniversaries of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were both this past week, so I think it’s a perfect time to share a fairly new picture book about one young survivor’s experience in Nagasaki.
Title: A Bowl Full of Peace: A True Story
Written By: Caren Stelson
Illustrated By: Akira Kusaka
Publisher/Date: Carolrhoda Books, an imprint of Lerner Publishing Group/2020
Suitable for Ages: 6 and up
Themes/Topics: Japan, biography, atomic bomb, Nagasaki, family treasures
No one knows how old Grandmother’s bowl is.
No one remembers who made it.
No one can count how many times the bowl has passed from mother to daughter.
But everyone knows Grandmother’s bowl is precious.
Brief Synopsis: In the rubble of their bombed home in Nagasaki, Japan, a family finds one precious bowl that has been passed down through generations and that now gives them hope for the future.
Links to Resources:
- Stelson has recounted Sachiko’s story in a book for older children. See the Discussion and Activity Guide;
- Ask an older adult to tell you about a cherished possession that has been passed down through the family. Why do you think this possession is important to that adult? Why is it important to you?
- An Author’s Note, an Illustrator’s Note, and Recommended Books provide further information about Sachiko, her family, and the bowl at the heart of this story.
Why I Like this Book:
War is never an easy topic in picture books. And when it’s a true story, with several family members and friends who don’t survive a nuclear attack, I think it’s even more difficult. Yet, after reading A Bowl Full of Peace, I was filled not with sorrow, but with hope, hope because survivors like Sachiko lived to tell their stories and hope that nuclear weapons will never be used again.
Told from the perspective of Sachiko, six-years old at the time of the bombing, readers learn of the loss of life and devastation caused when an American plane dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Nagasaki, Japan, in the final days of World War II. But amid the rubble, Sachiko’s father finds Grandmother’s bowl, the bowl that was at the center of their meals before the war, before Sachiko’s brothers and friends died.
On the anniversary of the bombing, Sachiko’s mother starts a tradition of filling the precious bowl with ice, reminding the family to “[r]emember how a chip of ice eased our thirst? As the ice melts, let us remember all who suffered and all who died.” Together, the family prays that “such a terrible war” never occurs again.
I love this tradition of remembering lost loved ones using the bowl that survived filled with ice that eased pain and thirst. I love, too, that by story’s end, readers learn that 50 years after the war, Sachiko continues the tradition and decides that she “can no longer be silent”, that she must share her story with the world.
Although this is a difficult topic, I think it’s important for adults to expose children to stories such as Sachiko’s so that, as Sachiko hopes, something similar never happens to anyone again.
Kusaka’s illustrations vary from dark and gray-filled scenes of war to tender family scenes.
A Note about Craft:
As I mentioned above, explaining war, especially nuclear war, in a way that resonates with younger children and doesn’t totally scare them is never easy. But by adding a focal point that kids can relate to, like a bowl used daily for family meals, and by focusing on how that object survives the bombing, I think Stelson has made this topic more accessible for kids.
The title of the book helps to focus readers on a future filled with peace, even as we remember those who tragically lost their lives. I love that the author is American, but the illustrator is Japanese.
This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!