By James Dunn
Since, 1966 the Mildred L Batchelder award has been given to the best book that was originally written and published in a different country, then later translated and published in the United States. The award was established to honor Mildred L Batchelder and her goal “to eliminate barriers to understanding between people of different cultures, races, nations, and languages.” (ALA) The award is used to help push publishers in the United States to find excellent works of literature from all across the world. It is awarded annually at the ALA Annual Conference every summer. This is also an award that doesn’t always have to be given out, if the committee decides that no book has met the standards of the award it is not given that year. This is so useful in the world of books because it shows students a different point of view on things they might alright be familiar with or just learning about.
The title, Hiroshima No Pika by Toshi Maruki, which translates to “The Flash of Hiroshima is story about a Mii, a little girl, living through the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in the second world war. Maruki, a Japanese artist, has created a book that shares the Japanese perspective so beautifully and heartbreaking at the same time. With her impressionist watercolor paintings, she takes us on a small girl’s journey through what must have been hell. Mii was eating breakfast like any other day when the bomb dropped and a “Flash” covered the sky. This would start a day that would change her life forever. Her father would be caught in the flames and badly hurt to the point where her mother had to carry him away to safety. They would end up making it to the beach outside of Hiroshima where they would fall asleep for four days. When they finally awoke from the darkness four days later, Mil is still clutching her breakfast chopsticks. The chopsticks would have to be pried from her fingers from her mother. They would finally get her father to some shelter, so they could go back to see their home. Returning to the city, the family finds “a burned-out wasteland as far as the eye could see.” (Maruki) This was a bomb like none ever seen before; causing the deaths of so many and the after effects would cause more deaths for years to come. The book ends with a description of the ritual followed by the people of Hiroshima every year on the anniversary of the bombing. Lanterns are inscribed with the names of those who died, and they are lit and set adrift on the rivers that flow through Hiroshima. “Mii, who is still like a small child after all these years, writes “Father” on one lantern and “The Swallow” on another. Her mother’s hair has now turned white, and she watches sorrowfully as her daughter sets the lanterns afloat. “‘It can’t happen again,’ she says, ‘if no one drops the bomb.’” (Maruki)
This book tries very hard to show the down side of war for both sides. In American schools it is often taught from the American point of view and that we did what we had to do to win the war. This shows students that sometimes war is dirtier than it seems and little girls like Mii and their families are forever affected by it. It also shows that there are long lasting affects after the war, because many of the survivors would later die from radiation poisons, which would often be a slow and painful death. Mii is also a great example of the after affects from war, because she never grows in size after the bomb drop. Seeing this is so important for students because it can put into perspective the world we live in and how war is not simply winners and losers, because in war both sides truly are losers. “The book reminds readers of the true cost of war— the inhumanity of both victory and defeat.” (Austin)
This book was also very controversial in its time because of is graphic illustrations and intense story. Many people felt that students or children rather should not be exposed to such things. Although possibly uncomfortable for some American readers, the book is factual and offers a Japanese perspective that is heartbreaking and surprisingly free of anger or much blame. There was however a large number of people including the committee that picks the winner of the Batchelder award that thought this story was important because it exposes students to things they might not have ever considered. Maruki presents the inhuman destruction as gently as possible and in human terms, so that what is stressed is an individual’s courage. Children are sensitive and resilient enough to face the truths depicted in Hiroshima No Pika. Books can touch the heart and soul in profound ways. We can never underestimate the power of children’s compassion and their ability to empathize with others. Getting students to empathize with stories like this can help them grow to understand new cultures to a better extent and also start asking questions. One of the main questions that could be asked from a book like Hiroshima No Pika, is how could we have let something like this happen to innocent people like Mii.
This story is so relevant for students in schools today because it shows the cost of war and how it can really affect everyone. Life itself can sometimes be dirty, gritty, and downright ugly, and exposing children to a safe way of confronting this is important. With all of the uncertainty right now across the world and all of the different conflicts, more stories like this should be shown in class, so we can start teaching kids at a young age the true cost of war. If things like this are forgotten, we can end up marching straight to our next world war with even more devastation than that caused the bomb dropped so many years ago. Maruki writes in the author’s note that Hiroshima No Pika was written for grandchildren everywhere, to tell them “about something bad that happened, in the hope that their knowing will help keep it from happening again.” (Maruki)
The story Hiroshima No Pika contributed so much in its time and even today. It did this by being so controversial that people just had to talk about it, and it was controversial for the right reasons. It didn’t try to shock the audience; it just tried to tell a simple story of a horrible moment in history. Its beautiful illustrations also give the story more value because it paints a picture that one’s imagination might not be able to capture on its own. This is a picture book that proves that middle level teachers can still use and truly gain something from teaching them in class. It was truly deserving of the Mildred L. Batchelder award because of it’s ability to tell a story that can truly spread understanding between cultures. The Mildred L. Batchelder award has the ability to spread knowledge that many awards don’t have because they are focused more on books that gain popularity in America. This award truly gets people to look at stories from across the world and gain knowledge that they might not have gained without such an award.
“About the Mildred L Batchelder Award.” Association for Library Service to Children. American Library Association, n.d. Web. 18 Nov. 2015.
Austin, Patricia, and James A. Bryan Jr. “Hiroshima No Pika (Book).” Book Links 13.4 (2004): Academic Search Complete. Web 18 Nov. 2015
Maruki, Toshi. Hiroshima No Pika. New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1980. Print.