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Module 5 - Book Reviews

International Children's Literature

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Hiroshima No Pika - Toshi Maruki
The Letters - Kazumi Yumoto
My Friends - Taro Gomi
The Minister's Daughter - Julie Hearn

Maruki, Toshi.  1980.  HIROSHIMA NO PIKA.  New York:  Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books.  ISBN:  0688012973.
     A little girl named Mii-Chan is eating breakfast in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, when the atomic bomb is dropped and her life is changed forever.  Her father eventually dies from radiation poisoning and her growth is halted to the size she is at seven years old.  The book describes the horror that took place after "The Flash" and the struggle to survive.  HIROSHIMA NO PIKA is a book that has a powerful message and was the recipient of the Mildred L. Batchelder Award, the Jane Addams Peace Award, the Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor Award, and is an American Library Association Notable Book.  The "book is dedicated to the fervent hope that the Flash will never happen again, anywhere." (Maruki, 1980).
     The book contains full-paged color illustrations, with a few illustrations begin double-paged for more impact.  The illustrations are striking water color paintings that are impressionistic in style.  The illustrations are detailed and sometimes graphic when showing the results of the bomb being dropped on Hiroshima.  Many of the illustrations showing the results of the bomb depict people with no clothes on and show the rubble from the blast.  The artist has used lots of red, orange, and yellow in the illustrations to give the reader the feel of living through "The Flash" and the burning that took place after.  Black and gray are also featured prominently in several illustrations to enhance the feel of the soot and rubble that was left after the bombing.  "Striking watercolor paintings reinforce the colors of flames and debris, vividly heightening this low-key text recounting the fictionalized experiences of a 7-year-old Hiroshima child and her mother after the 1945 "Hiroshima flash." (Booklist, 1989).  My favorite illustration shows five young Japanese women lighting lanterns to be set adrift on the seven rivers that flow through Hiroshima in memory of those who died in the bombing.  The artist used colors that really seem to make the lanterns glow and is a very striking illustration.  Another powerful illustration shows the remains of Hiroshima after the bombing.  There is nothing but rubble left.  The artist was very detailed in illustrating this picture.  A rice bowl is shown amongst the rubble along with other bits of debris that is all that is left of the buildings in the area.
     The story is set in Hiroshima, Japan and has several cultural markers throughout.  The characters are shown in the illustrations wearing traditional Japanese clothing.  The illustrations show great detail in the women's kimonos.  The story also describes the family's breakfast which is sweet potatoes that day instead of the traditional rice that her father prefers.  Another illustration depicts several cultural differences.  The family is seated on cushions around a low table eating their breakfast.  A Japanese teapot is on the table as well as other cooking utensils, pots, etc. that I do not know the names for.  The text mentions Mii-Chan receiving a rice ball to eat by one of the survivors and that she still had hold of the chopsticks she was eating with when the bomb went off, four days later.
     The author uses simple prose to tell the story of "The Flash" and does not dress the story up, nor become didactic.  "Then it happened.  A sudden, terrible light flashed all around.  The light was bright orange-then white, like thousands of lightning bolts all striking at once.  Violent shock waves followed, and buildings trembled and began to collapse." (Maruki, 1980).  The story describes the factual events of the time through the fictional characters of Mii-Chan and her mother.  The theme of the story is simply that the "Flash" can never happen again.  It is much too devastating to ever have happen again.
     The author did a great job presenting the factual information of the bombing in a straightforward manner without being preachy or didactic.  While the book contains a strong message (not to use an atomic bomb again), it uses the experience of a survivor to emphasize what happens to the people it is used on.  The illustrations appeal to the emotions of the reader as well to back up this point.  Many reviews list the book as being appropriate for young readers in grades 3-9 and I think I would be cautious to show it to readers in elementary school for the simple reason that many will not be ready for the mature themes and messages contained in the book.  For older readers, I think the book is fantastic in its emotional appeal and historically accurate information, including a first hand experience of a survivor.
Booklist.  1 April, 1989.  Books in Print.  [database online].  Available
Yumoto, Kazumi.  1977.  THE LETTERS.  New York:  Farrar Straus Giroux.  ISBN:  0374343837.
     Six-year-old Chiaki Hoshino's life is turned upside down with the sudden death of her father.  Her mother goes through a period of depression and then moves from their home to an apartment called Poplar House.  After moving into Poplar House, Chiaki becomes ill and cannot attend school, so the landlady, Mrs. Yanagi, volunteers to watch her during the day so her mother can go to her job at the Wedding Hall.  At first, Chiaki is afraid of Mrs. Yanagi because she looks like "Popeye" when she is not wearing her dentures and her living quarters are dark.  A friendship develops between the two when Mrs. Yanagi suggest that Chiaki write a "letter" to her deceased father and when she dies, Mrs. Yanagi will "deliver" the letters for Chiaki as well as for other people that she has made the offer to.  Chiaki gradually recovers from her extreme anxiety and fear as she writes letters to her father and as she and Mrs. Yanagi become better friends.  When Chiaki is an adult, Mrs. Yanagi dies and Chiaki is surprised to find many people at the funeral all who had written letters for Mrs. Yanagi to "deliver."  All feel a kinship with each other for Mrs. Yanagi had helped each through a difficult period of grief by offering to deliver their "letters" upon her death.  Another former tenant of the apartment pulls Chiaki aside and gives her a letter her mother had written to her father.  As Chiaki reads the letter she discovers that her father didn't die in an accident as she had always believed, but committed suicide.  Chiaki had been contemplating suicide, herself, and the letter her mother wrote to her father, gives Chiaki a new reason to live.
     The book contains several cultural markers since the story takes place in Japan.  Chiaki describes sleeping on futons the way we would sleep in a bed.  Where we would make the bed each day, Chiaki describes folding the futon and putting it away.  Another cultural difference are the types of foods mentioned in the book that Chiaki and the landlady eat.  A typical lunch for Chiaki consists of two rice balls made by her mother.  Mrs. Yanagi's typical lunch consisted of cold rice, kelp stewed in soy sauce, and miso soup with a turnip in it.  Mrs. Yanagi also made Chiaki drink senicha, a strongly steeped medicinal tea which Chiaki described as "being both bitter and sour at the same time." (Yumoto 1997, p. 31).  A favorite treat of Mrs. Yanagi's is mamedaifuku, a confection made with pounded sticky rice, studded with black beans, and stuffed with bean jam. 
     Another cultural difference concerns funeral and religious customs.  When Chiaki's father dies, she sees him in his coffin, but the difference is that the bodies are then cremated.  Chiaki describes this a matter of course, but in the United States, while cremation is done, more people are buried in their coffins.  Chiaki also describes the Buddhist altar in Mrs. Yanagi's house and the offerings she makes to her dead husband at the altar.  "Giving one plate to me, she would carry the other to the Buddhist family altar.  There she would strike a small bowl-shaped brass gong, fold her hands in prayer, and then immediately retrieve the sweet that she had just placed there as an offering and begin eating it." (Yumoto 1997, p. 31).  Another ceremony mentioned is the higan, which is the autumnal equinox when special Buddhist services are performed for the dead. 
     Chiaki also describes Mrs. Yanagi's kimono, which she only wears for special ceremonial occassions, such as funerals.  Another major cultural difference are the names used in the book which, of course, are Japanese names such as Osamu, Chiaki, Mrs. Yanagi, Mr. Nishioka, and Miss Sasaki.  These are not the typical names found in most novels and books written in the United States.
     I enjoyed reading this book and learning about customs and foods common in Japan as well as discovering what our cultures have in common.  One characteristic that is common in many cultures is that children often say exactly what is on their mind without thinking about consequences or that it might hurt someone's feelings.  This was also my favorite part of the book because it is also humorous.  "What are you staring at?  Open the door for me,"  she said.  But the next instant I yelled, "Mrs. Yanagi has grown teeth!"  The landlady looked slightly put out and fell silent.  Then she said deliberately, "Of course I put my teeth in.  After all, I was going out," and she closed her mouth firmly, her nostrils flaring wide.  I was so consumed by the desire to get a better look at her white, even teeth that I forgot to blink.  Then I noticed a strange hissing sound.  Miss Sasaki was holding both hands to her eyes and seemed to be groaning in agony.  Beside her, my mother was staring intently at the ground, her shoulders shaking.  At first I thought they were crying, but it appeared that in fact they were laughing.  Not understanding what was so funny, I looked over at Mr. Nishioka.  His little eyes darted about and his eyebrows were twitching violently.  The landlady entered her house and closed the door with a firm click."  (Yumoto 1997, p. 72).  This scene could have happened in any country.  When children notice something different about someone they know, they often have to announce this difference without consideration of feelings or tact, simply because it has not occurred to them yet.  "The particulars of young Chiaki's everyday life are specifically Japanese - the rice-ball lunches, the landlady's kimono, the tatami mats, and futon - and set this story solidly in that country, but the themes are universal."  (School Library Journal 2002).  The book also discusses the themes of friendship, death, and learning to deal with anxiety and depression.  These are all told through the memories of an adult Chiaki from when she was six-years-old.
School Library Journal.  1 May, 2002.  Books in Print.  [database online].  Available from
Gomi, Taro.  1990.  MY FRIENDS.  San Francisco:  Chronicle Books.  ISBN:  0877016887.
     A little girl describes from whom she has learned to do a variety of things such as:  walk, jump, climb, run, kick, sing, read, and study.  This is a short, little picture book aimed at toddlers and preschoolers.
     The picture book tells the story on a double-paged and the illustrations are done in water colors against a white background in most of the illustrations.  The colors are bright and stand out, especially the little girl's bright fuchsia pink dress.  The objects in the illustrations are cut-out shaped and display no real movement.  Facial expressions are limited except for one illustration where the little girl's expression is a grimace that mirrors the expression shown on the face of the gorilla.  There are differing viewpoints on the artwork contained in the story.  "Gomi's meticulous sense of design and careful use of brilliantly colored, highly delineated images imbues the story with a sense of the wonder and delight to be derived from life's simplest - but bountiful - moments." (Publisher's Weekly, 1990).  I did feel the sense of wonder that the girl in the story was experiencing, so I would have to agree with the viewpoint expressed in this review. 
     On the other hand, I felt that the characters and animals were kind of flat because there was not much change in facial expressions and some situations were not realistic.  I was not comfortable viewing the child learning to nap from the crocodile.  This was not realistic and was downright dangerous.  A better alternative might have been to use an opossum in the place of the crocodile, or some other animal that is known for sleeping quite a bit.  "There is no sign of real movement in any of the characters.  Facial expressions are almost nonexistent.  Some of the size relationships are inaccurate (rabbit-girl/owl-girl), and a few of the activities the child engages in are unsettling, let alone unrealistic." (School Library Journal, 1990).  I found I had to agree with this review for the reasons I have stated previously.  I didn't notice the size relationships as much as I noticed the illustration with the crocodile and thought a different animal would have been a better choice.
     Cultural markers are not evident in the text and are contained in the illustrations.  There are not many obvious cultural markers.  The main character has Asian features such as black hair and the skin tone used in the illustration is not white, but a darker color that is more orange or yellow-orange.  The teachers in another illustration also display these Asian features of darker skin tones and black hair.  The skin tones are all slightly different shades, but the reader can tell that it is not to represent white people.  The illustration toward the end of the book involving a group of children also shows them with Asian features with black hair and a variety of skin tones that are not white or black.  These are about the only cultural markers displayed in the book.  The houses don't give much detail to be able to display any architectural clues to the country the story takes place in, nor do the illustrations picturing what I believe is the young girl's room.  The clothing is Western style clothing.  There are no kimono's or other styles of dress in the illustrations to further identify the country the story takes place in.
     My overall opinion of the book is that it is all right.  It is not an outstanding book, but it is not horrible either.  The main character is engaging and children should be able to relate to her and the activities that she is participating in as most children enjoy running, jumping, etc.
Publishers Weekly.  8 June, 1990.  Books in Print.  [database online].  Available
School Library Journal.  1 July, 1990.  Books in Print.  [database online].  Available
Hearn, Julie.  2005.  THE MINISTER'S DAUGHTER.  New York:  Atheneum Books for Young Readers.  ISBN:  0689876904.
     Nell is a merrybegot being raised by her grandmother, the local cunning woman, a healer and wise woman.  Nell is claimed by the piskies and fairies as a child of nature, one of their own and she is learning to be a cunning woman like her grandmother.
     Grace and Patience Madden are the daughters of the new Puritan minister.  Grace is beautiful and sweet natured on the surface to those who know her, but Grace is secretly rebelling against her father's Puritan beliefs.  Grace becomes pregnant which begins a string of events that will bring the Witch-finder General to their corner of England in 1645.  Patience is the younger, naive sister who is easily manipulated by her older sister.  The burden of secrets that Patience must deal with, begin to unhinge her mind.  The three girls' lives become intertwined when Nell refuses to give Grace the herbs necessary to abort the baby and Grace begins a series of events aimed at getting even.
     The story is told through multiple points of view.  The chapters that are written in 1645 are told from the third person, present tense and alternate with Patience's memories of the events which are told from 1692.  The themes of the story include fear, jealousy, love, deceit, revenge, and manipulation.  The story is a unique blend of historical fiction and fantasy when Nell interacts with the piskies and fairies.  
     Cultural markers in the story include being set in England during the English Civil War in 1645.  The house the minister lives in is a style usually found in England.  The house is gabled and turreted with mullioned windows and was built by a wealthy merchant during the reign of Queen Bess.  Another cultural marker occurs when Nell delivers the fairy baby.  When she rubs ointment into the newborn's skin, the text says is must cover every millimeter.  In the U. S. it would have said every square inch.  The story describes the minister going to Essex to meet with Matthew Hopkins, the Witch-finder General, both of which are part of England and its history.  The story also refers to the King and his Parliament, both of which are part of government in England.  The story also includes a young Charles II as one of the characters in the story who would eventually become a king of England.  Another cultural marker occurs when Nell talks about the moors, which are known to be part of English geography.  The story also mentions that one of the characters will be killed by one of Cromwell's men.  Cromwell was the leader of those that were fighting against the king during the English Civil War.  When Nell is rescued, she is taken to Falmouth, which is on the coast of England.  For the most part, cultural markers such as vocabulary and spelling of words are difficult to find because I did not notice/find any.  Most cultural markers referred to geography, cities, and historical people.
     I enjoyed reading the story because I like reading both historical fiction and fantasy and this is a blend of both genres.  I thought the tie between the witch trials in England and those in the New World were an interesting twist and young readers might read more books about the Salem witch trials after reading this book.  Hearn writes clearly and moves the story along at a good pace.  She weaves her characters together and shows how their actions are intertwined.  I thought it was an interesting twist that Nell turned out to be a half-sister to Grace and Patience.  I thought the use of different points of view was useful to the story.  The author inserts commentary from Patience which the reader later learns is her testimony from the witch trials in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692.    This commentary allows the reader to learn "inside" information about what was really happening during 1645.  "These varied perspectives allow readers to penetrate lies and concealment." (School Library Journal, 2005).  The book does a good job on character development with Nell, but I wish Hearn had delved into the characters of Patience and Grace in more detail.  Hearn gave a hint that the girls acted the way they did because their mother was dead, and their father was too involved in the church, but it would have been interesting to find out what their motivations were; why they did the things they did.
School Library Journal.  1 June, 2005.  Books in Print.  [database online].  Available

International Children's Literature
Sylvia M. Vardell, Ph. D. - Instructor
Renee Schneider - Student

This site was created as an assignment for a Texas Woman's University course.  The course is a graduate level course in Library Science LS 5903.24 Special Topics - International Children's Literature.