Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes is the touching, sad, beautiful story of a young Japanese girl who was dying of leukemia caused by the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. She begins making paper cranes to pass her time in the hospital and hopes to make 1000, but she is only able to complete six hundred or so. Her classmates from school take over and finish the 1000, and the cranes are buried with her. The crane is a symbol of peace and healing not only in Japanese culture, but this simple and lovely image has spread to our own. If you go to St. Paul's Chapel in the Financial District, for example, you will see long chains of paper cranes sent there by Japanese schoolchildren for the rescue workers in the days after 9/11. People leave paper cranes in the Hiroshima Peace Park to this day to express hope for a world without nuclear weapons.
The book about Sadako is a popular one in elementary schools, not only for its historic value, but also to help children cope with the death of friends and classmates. Many children are familiar with it. My own students certainly are. I have a copy of it in my classroom library, as do most teachers in my school.
I mentioned that we'd be launching a new unit dealing with memoir writing soon. One of my students asked, "Oh, are we going to read about Sadako and the thousand paper planes?"
Perhaps, in her version of the book, Sadako was the class clown?