Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes

Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Eleanor Coerr's Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Eleanor Coerr

Born in Saskatchewan, Canada, Eleanor Coerr attended the University of Saskatchewan but ultimately received her bachelor’s degree from American University in Washington, D.C., and then went on to earn a master’s degree in library science from the University of Maryland. She remained in America, teaching literature and writing at universities in California, and also working as a reporter and newspaper columnist. She was married to an American ambassador, and often travelled with him during his diplomatic trips to countries all over the world—including Japan. Coerr traveled to Japan for the first time in 1949 and found the country devastated by the violence of the Second World War. In the mid-1960s, on one of her trips to the Japanese archipelago, Coerr became compelled by the story of Sadako Sasaki and began writing her story. Over the course of her nearly five-decade career, Coerr wrote books for children such as Jane Goodall, Sam the Minuteman, and Meiko and the Fifth Treasure. She passed away in New York City in 2010, leaving behind a legacy of education and empathy and a collection of work that reflected her deep interest in the lives of remarkable girls and women all around the world.
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Historical Context of Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes

Sadako Sasaki was a real girl whose life—and death—made her a martyr and a heroine in the eyes of many in Japan and all over the world. Her death from leukemia at just eleven years old opened people’s eyes to the effects of nuclear warfare and became a rallying cry for peace, nonviolence, and an end to nuclear programs the world over. When the United States dropped two atomic bombs over Japan in an attempt to end World War II—Little Boy over Hiroshima and Fat Man over Nagasaki—an unimaginable loss of life took place. The first instance of a nuclear attack shocked the world, and as the scientists who had developed the bombs witnessed what they had wrought, they began to understand the consequences of what they had created. “I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds,” one scientists behind the Manhattan Project—the government program tasked with developing nuclear weapons during the war—famously proclaimed about the bombs he had helped to create. The bombs ushered in a new chapter in warfare: large-scale destruction, annihilation of not just human life but plants, animals, and infrastructure as well, and residual fallout and radiation which would ripple through the sites of the bombings for years and years to come. Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, a rallying cry for peace, demonstrates the devastating aftereffects, both practical and logistical, of nuclear war. Sadako’s family and friends are emotionally tormented by the losses they have suffered, and as the psychological effects of the bombings extend through their communities, the physical effects too continue to ravage the residents of Hiroshima—Sadako, who was just a baby at the time of the bombing, is nine years later a casualty of destructive and unforgiving nuclear warfare.

Other Books Related to Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes

Sadako Sasaki’s short and tragic life—and the message of hope and pacifism her untimely death inspired—have been the subject of many works of fiction and nonfiction. Aside from Eleanor Coerr’s original account, aimed at young children, there is a picture book called Sadako, a reinvention of Coerr’s novel which incorporates images by Caldecott medalist Ed Young, and a forthcoming biography of Sadako composed by Masahiro Sasaki, her older brother. The book will be published in 2018, and is tentatively titled The True Story of Sadako Sasaki. Other books inspired by the Hiroshima bombing and also aimed at children as a means of spreading messages of pacifism and nonviolence include My Hiroshima by Junko Morimoto and Hiroshima No Pika by Toshi Maruki. John Hersey’s book, Hiroshima, documents the aftermath of the bombing of Hiroshima, but is in no way aimed at children.
Key Facts about Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes
  • Full Title: Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes
  • When Written: 1960s and 1970s
  • Where Written: Japan; California, USA
  • When Published: 1977
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Fiction; children’s literature
  • Setting: Hiroshima, Japan
  • Climax: Having folded over six hundred origami paper cranes in an attempt to reach one thousand as a means of making a wish to restore her health, eleven-year old Sadako—a survivor of the Hiroshima bombing—succumbs to leukemia in her hospital bed, looking up at her cranes hanging from the ceiling as her family stands all around her.
  • Antagonist: War; the atom bomb; leukemia
  • Point of View: Third-person

Extra Credit for Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes

A Goal Completed. Though the novel claims that at the time of her death Sadako had only completed roughly 640 cranes, in real life, Sadako folded well over one thousand paper cranes while hospitalized and receiving treatment for leukemia. Her classmates did contribute additional cranes to her project, however, and very many were buried with her.