Caren Stelson

Caren Stelson

author

PEACE

for all

A Bowl Full of Peace

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Published by Carolrhoda/Lerner Publishing Group, released May 2020

I always knew Grandmother’s bowl had its own sto­ry to tell.

When edi­tor Carol Hinz sug­gest­ed a pic­ture book about Sachiko Yasui’s Nagasaki sur­vival sto­ry for a younger audi­ence, I was grate­ful for the invitation.

I knew imme­di­ate­ly the focus would be Sachiko’s grandmother’s bowl.

 

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Published by Carolrhoda/Lerner Publishing Group, 2016

In Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story, Grandmother’s bowl was the only object Sachiko’s fam­i­ly found when they returned home after the atom­ic bomb­ing of their city at the end of World War II. As Sachiko’s sto­ry unfolds, the bowl becomes an image, a thread, an endowed object on the altar of mem­o­ry and peace.

I remem­ber the first time Sachiko Yasui told me about her grandmother’s bowl. Chills ran up and down my arms as I lis­tened. On each August 9th, the anniver­sary of the atom­ic bomb­ing of Nagasaki, Sachiko’s moth­er would fill the bowl with ice. Sachiko’s fam­i­ly would remem­ber their thirst from the heat of the explo­sion, the fam­i­ly and friends they lost to the bomb, and the 74,000 peo­ple in Nagasaki who died from wounds and radi­a­tion expo­sure. All day long, Sachiko’s fam­i­ly remem­bered and prayed for world peace as the ice melted.

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Sachiko Yasui and Caren Stelson’s first meet­ing, Nagasaki, 2010

The last time I vis­it­ed Sachiko in Nagasaki, she thanked me for giv­ing new life to Grandmother’s bowl. Then, to my sur­prise, she gave me the bowl. That bowl sat on my writ­ing desk dur­ing the entire time I wrote A Bowl Full of Peace, as my touch­stone to the story.

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Sachiko’s grand­moth­er’s bowl

While writ­ing Sachiko’s sto­ry for the first time, I faced the bur­den of telling such a dif­fi­cult sto­ry to mid­dle school and high school read­ers. I wor­ried the trau­ma of nuclear war would par­a­lyze them, as it near­ly did me. How would I write Sachiko’s sto­ry for young children?

Each day I worked on A Bowl Full of Peace, I kept the eight- and nine-year-olds I used to teach close to my heart. I imag­ined my beloved two-year-old grand­son read­ing this book when he is in third grade and held that image ten­der­ly in my mind. We can’t hide dif­fi­cult his­to­ry from chil­dren, but how do we share enough for them to com­pre­hend it? The most impor­tant ele­ment of the sto­ry I knew would be hope. As writ­ers for chil­dren, we must give our young read­ers hope and a sense of agency in that hope. Could my words for Sachiko’s sto­ry do that? And what about the illus­tra­tions? Would the illus­tra­tions guide us to that goal, too?

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Illustrator Akira Kusaka
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Kusaka work­ing on his computer

How for­tu­nate the illus­tra­tor for A Bowl Full of Peace is the tal­ent­ed Japanese artist, Akira Kusaka. For any artist, illus­trat­ing Sachiko’s sto­ry would have been a demand­ing invi­ta­tion. For Akira Kusaka, it changed the way he viewed his work as an artist. In an inter­view trans­lat­ed from Japanese to English, Akira said:

“… When I was asked to draw illus­tra­tions for this sto­ry … I was very anx­ious. Could my draw­ings real­ly con­vey what hap­pened to Sachiko in A Bowl Full of Peace? … I was afraid my chest would hurt, my feel­ings would jum­ble up, and those feel­ings would be so painful that I might not be able to com­plete the illus­tra­tions. Perhaps that’s why I had been avoid­ing draw­ing about war with­out notic­ing … I began to imag­ine the book’s illus­tra­tions. I thought: It’s a pic­ture book, so the first thing I should remem­ber is that my illus­tra­tions are for chil­dren. The most dif­fi­cult part of illus­trat­ing was to keep the bal­ance; to con­tin­u­al­ly remind myself the book was for chil­dren … My goal was to match Caren’s text and my illus­tra­tions so that this book would become a book with emo­tions, just like a human being.… This book con­veys the dis­tress and pain of war. But at the same time, I learned a lot about over­com­ing hard­ships and find­ing courage to con­front dif­fi­cul­ties.… Drawing for this pic­ture book made me take illus­trat­ing more seri­ous­ly than before … This book may be based on Sachiko Yasiu’s expe­ri­ence, but in my opin­ion, it’s not just a book, it’s Sachiko her­self. It’s about her wish for peace … This is what we have to hand down to posterity.”

We’ll share Akira’s full video inter­view with you soon.

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Sample illus­tra­tions from A Bowl Full of Peace

Akira Kusaka accept­ed a near impos­si­ble chal­lenge and deliv­ered Sachiko’s sto­ry with hon­esty, sen­si­tiv­i­ty, and com­pas­sion. One day I hope to meet Akira-san and thank him for bring­ing A Bowl Full of Peace to life for all of us. We both know it has been our deep priv­i­lege to pass Sachiko’s sto­ry and her mes­sage of peace on to the next generation.

3 thoughts on “A Bowl Full of Peace”

  1. What a won­der­ful arti­cle about the back­ground of the book & illus­tra­tor. We’re all look­ing for­ward to read­ing it!

    Reply
  2. Hi, Caren,
    I was going though my books today and came across Sachiko, which brought back my mem­o­ries of inter­view­ing you. I still cher­ish this book. My grand­daugh­ter, Lucia, was recent­ly vis­it­ing me. She is eleven and a vora­cious read­er. Loves his­to­ry and non­fic­tion. Or his­tor­i­cal fic­tion. So I plan to send her my copy of Sachiko and tell her about meet­ing you. I see from the above that you’ve writ­ten a follow-up. I’ll send that to her too.
    I hope you’re doing well in these crazy times! All the best, Vicky

    Reply

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