Caren Stelson



for all

Sachiko Yasui and Jane Addams, Teachers of Peace

bk_sachiko_300px-2299935Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story is the 2017 win­ner of the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award for books for old­er chil­dren. When I got the phone call from Heather Palmer, chair of the Jane Addams Children’s Book Committee telling me of the award, goose­bumps ran up and down my arm. Her e‑letter of con­grat­u­la­tions described the award this way:

The Addams Award is giv­en annu­al­ly by the Jane Addams Peace Association. It rec­og­nizes chil­dren’s books of lit­er­ary and aes­thet­ic excel­lence that effec­tive­ly engage chil­dren in think­ing about peace, social jus­tice, glob­al com­mu­ni­ty, and equi­ty for all peo­ple. We have found Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story to be just such a book.

I am hum­bled by this award and proud. The heart of Sachiko’s sto­ry and the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award couldn’t be bet­ter aligned. Every time I inter­viewed Sachiko Yasui, her desires for world peace and jus­tice were unequivocal.

Jane Addams with chil­dren from the Jane Addams Peace Organization

I con­tin­ue to be gob­s­macked by the awards Sachiko has gar­nered. When I first wrote to Sachiko Yasui in 2010, I said, “We need your sto­ry in America.” Her expe­ri­ence as a sur­vivor of nuclear war and her path­ways to peace have nev­er left my heart and mind. At the time, I won­dered if my let­ter over­stat­ed the urgency for Sachiko’s sto­ry. I need­ed her sto­ry. But my ear­ly state­ment has proven true. More than ever, we need Sachiko’s sto­ry in America—and in the world. The Jane Addams Award under­scores this need.

Jane Addams, the “moth­er of social work,” has always been an inspi­ra­tional hero of mine. Her suc­cess­ful set­tle­ment, “Hull House” in Chicago chal­lenged the inequal­i­ties of the late 19th and ear­ly 20th cen­turies, pro­vid­ing lead­er­ship in com­mu­ni­ty ser­vice that still could be a mod­el for today. I was less famil­iar with Addams’ tire­less work for peace, nation­al­ly and inter­na­tion­al­ly. Addams became the first pres­i­dent of the Woman’s Peace Party and presided over the 1915 International Congress of Women, lat­er the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. In 1931, Addams was the first American woman award­ed the Nobel Peace Prize. Sachiko Yasui reached out to Helen Keller, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr. as her teach­ers of peace. I can well imag­ine Sachiko adding Jane Addams to her list of inspi­ra­tional teachers.

Sachiko Yasui, 2010. Photo by Caren Stelson.
“Peace” is writ­ten in Japanese on the stained glass window.

It seems so long ago now, but on my first flight to Nagasaki, I spent 14 hours in the air ner­vous­ly recon­sid­er­ing my pro­pos­al to write Sachiko’s sto­ry, fear­ing the great pos­si­bil­i­ty of fail­ure. In those ear­ly months of the project, I often thought it was beyond my abil­i­ty to cap­ture Sachiko’s sto­ry in the way my heart had hoped. Multiple obsta­cles stood in my way. Perhaps the great­est was that I was an American. I rep­re­sent­ed the coun­try that dropped the first atom­ic bombs in war­fare on a civil­ian pop­u­la­tion. One of those atom­ic bombs det­o­nat­ed 900 meters from where six-year-old Sachiko Yasui was play­ing out­side with her friends. Yet pre­cise­ly because I was an American, it was cru­cial to try to walk in Sachiko’s shoes. More than sev­en­ty years after the atom­ic bomb­ing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Americans must nev­er for­get the utter destruc­tion of nuclear war and the absolute neces­si­ty for peace. One of the cri­te­ria for the Addams Award is, “How can peo­ple work with com­pas­sion, empa­thy and activism to advance Jane Addams’ belief that ‘true peace is not mere­ly the absence of war, it is the pres­ence of jus­tice’ ”? This quote is at the heart of Sachiko.

During my phone con­ver­sa­tion with Heather Palmer, she men­tioned that a group of her mid­dle school stu­dents had been inspired after read­ing Sachiko’s sto­ry to launch ser­vice projects in their com­mu­ni­ty. I’m look­ing for­ward to talk­ing with the kids to find how Sachiko’s sto­ry made a dif­fer­ence in their lives—and shar­ing what the kids say with Sachiko. This is the ulti­mate award. My hope in writ­ing Sachiko was to encour­age young peo­ple to under­stand that peace is action, that they are our next gen­er­a­tion of peace­mak­ers. I imag­ine Jane Addams and Sachiko Yasui, arm-in-arm, giv­ing these kids a thumbs-up.

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