Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes Summary

Extended Summary

While living in Japan, author Eleanor Coerr heard about twelve-year-old Sadako Sasaki, a young girl who died in 1955 of leukemia resulting from radiation poisoning. Sadako’s family had been living in Hiroshima when the United States dropped the atomic bomb on the city in 1945. Sadako’s personal letters had already been collected and published in a book entitled Kokeshi, so Coerr decided to write Sadako’s story for American children.

On the morning of August 6, 1954, eleven-year-old Sadako Sasaki runs out into the street to greet the cloudless, sunny sky. She deems the pleasant weather a sign of good luck. Inside the house, Sadako’s younger sister and two brothers are still asleep, so Sadako awakens her elder brother, Masahiro. He crawls out of bed once he smells the bean soup cooking in the kitchen. Soon Sadako’s sister, Mitsue, and younger brother, Eiji, are also awake. Sadako rushes into the kitchen and pleads with her mother for the family to hurry so they can go to the carnival. Her mother scolds her for calling the event a carnival—August 6 is Peace Day, a day of reverence and remembrance for those who died when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Sadako’s father reminds her that her own grandmother died on that terrible day. Sadako says that she prays for her grandmother’s spirit every morning, and the Sasaki family then gathers around the altar to pray for Oba chan and give thanks for the blessings in their life. Mr. Sasaki also prays that his family be protected from leukemia, “the atom bomb disease,” because even though the bomb had been dropped nine years earlier, the radiation that had filled the air remains inside people’s bodies for a long time.

Back at the breakfast table, Sadako finishes eating her meal before everyone else, and she and Mitsue clean the kitchen. Sadako must sit and wait patiently for her family to get ready to leave the house. While she sits, a spider walks across the room. Sadako cups the spider in her hands and releases it outside for good luck.

When the Sasakis leave home to attend the Peace Day memorial event, Sadako runs ahead to meet her best friend, Chizuko. The girls race up the street, and Mr. Sasaki feels proud that Sadako is such a strong, fast runner. Inside the entrance to the Peace Park, many photographs of dead and dying people and the ruined city of Hiroshima line the walls. Sadako does not want to look at the horrifying images, and she tells Chizuko that she remembers the prickly heat from the blast. Chizuko says that Sadako cannot possibly remember that day because she was just a baby, but Sadako insists that she remembers. The mayor and priests give memorial speeches, and hundreds of white doves are released to fly free. Sadako thinks that the birds represent the spirits of the dead. During the ceremonies, Sadako visits the market stalls. She loves seeing all the foods and items for sale. However, she does not like to see the whitish scars on the victims of the atomic bomb. In the evening, families write the names of relatives who died from the atomic bomb on paper lanterns. They put candles inside the lanterns and release them onto the Ohta River. Sadako thinks the day truly has brought good luck.

Early in the fall, Sadako runs home and announces that her class has chosen her to race in the relay team on Field Day. She sees this opportunity as a step toward making the track team the following year in junior high school, which is what she wants more than anything else. At school every day, Sadako practices for the race, and her speed surprises all. On Field Day, Mr. Sasaki tells Sadako to do her best and that her family will be proud of her. Sadako puts her nerves aside and runs so hard that her heart thumps painfully in her chest. At the finish line, she feels strangely dizzy and barely hears someone shout that her team has won the race. She shakes her head, and the dizziness goes away.

All winter, Sadako trains so she can make the junior high school team, but the dizziness often returns, especially after a long run. Sadako does not tell anyone—not even Chizuko—about the dizziness. Instead, she prays that her ailment will simply go away on its own. On New Year’s Eve, Sadako wishes away the dizzy spells. The following morning, the Sasaki family joins many people in visiting the shrines. Mrs. Sasaki...

(The entire section is 1775 words.)