The Last Cherry Blossom by Kathleen Burkinshaw

last-cherry-blossom-9781634506939_p0_v2_s192x300The Last Cherry Blossom

Kathleen Burkinshaw, Author

Sky Pony Press, Historical Fiction, Aug. 2,  2016

Pages: 240

Suitable for Ages: 11-13

Themes: Hiroshima, Children of war, WW II, Love, Loss, Traditions

Opening: “Get under your desks — now!” Yakamura-sensei shouted above the lonesome wail of the air raid siren.

Book Synopsis:  Yuriko was happy growing up in Hiroshima when it was just her and Papa. But her aunt Kimiko and her five-year-old cousin, Genji, are living with them now, and the family is only getting bigger with talk of a double marriage.  And while things are changing at home, the world beyond their doors is even more unpredictable. World War II is coming to an end, and Japan’s fate is not entirely clear, with any battle losses being hidden from its people. Yuriko is used to the sirens and the air-raid drills, but things start to feel more real when the neighbors who have left to fight stop coming home. When the bomb hits Hiroshima, it’s through Yuriko’s twelve-year-old eyes that we witness the devastation and horror.

This is a story that offers young readers insight into how children lived during the war, while also introducing them to Japanese culture. Based loosely on author Kathleen Burkinshaw’s mother’s firsthand experience surviving the atomic bombings of Hiroshima, The Last Cherry Blossom hopes to warn readers of the immense damage nuclear war can bring, while reminding them that the “enemy” in any war is often not so different from ourselves.

Why I like this book:

Kathleen Burkinshaw’s debut novel is powerfully penned, authentic, emotionally raw and deeply personal. It is a captivating journey about life, love, secrets, pain, loss and hope that will tug at your heart long after you put the novel down.

Even though there are frequent air raid drills and black-out curtains, traditional Japanese life continues with a strong sense of community. The first half of the story focuses on family, cultural traditions, food preparation, ceremony, ritual, and the beautiful cherry blossom and New Year’s festivals. There are family secrets, the angst of adolescence and enduring friendships. Readers will easily fall in step with the pace of life in Japan before it begins to change.

The story is character-driven, with Yuriko narrating. Reader’s will be captivated by Yuriko’s curiosity, spirit, and strong will, which is nurtured by her papa, who publishes the newspaper. Their bond is tight and he tells her bedtime stories of their samurai ancestors and how they are the last branches of their family tree. Yuriko shares secrets and a love of jazz music with her best friend Machiko.

The plot picks up momentum as more soldiers are being sent to war and not returning home. Rumors spread that there isn’t enough scrap metal to build Japanese planes. The Emperor sends out propaganda that the Japanese are beating the Allies in the Pacific.  But, the Americans bomb Nagasaki.  Air raid sirens are going off many times daily. And in a blink of an eye there are war planes flying low overhead.  Sirens sound. There is an eruption of bright light and loud sounds. Yuriko’s world implodes that tragic day.

This is a dark period in humanity’s history 71 years ago. Children will learn that Japanese children shared the same fears as the children in Allied countries during World War II.  Her novel speaks to the enduring will to survive. It is my hope that Burkinshaw’s novel will help readers humanize historical events that have radically changed our world and take them more seriously as they become our future leaders.  The author’s mother shared her story because she felt “the use of nuclear weapons against any country or people, for any reason, is unacceptable.”

Resources: There is a very helpful glossary of Japanese words and expressions that are used throughout the novel, an Author’s Note, and Statistics About Hiroshima.

Kathleen Burkinshaw wrote The Last Cherry Blossom based on her mother’s story of growing up in Hiroshima during World War II. She was twelve years old when the bomb was dropped on Aug. 6, 1945. Visit Kathleen Burkinshaw at her website.

Check other Middle Grade review links on author Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post. 

Note: Watch for Multicultural Children’s Book Day, which will be celebrated on Jan. 27, 2017. Hashtag: #ReadYourWorld.

About Patricia Tiltonhttps://childrensbooksheal.wordpress.comI want "Children's Books Heal" to be a resource for parents, grandparents, teachers and school counselors. My goal is to share books on a wide range of topics that have a healing impact on children who are facing challenges in their lives. If you are looking for good books on grief, autism, visual and hearing impairments, special needs, diversity, bullying, military families and social justice issues, you've come to the right place. I also share books that encourage art, imagination and creativity. I am always searching for those special gems to share with you. If you have a suggestion, please let me know.

45 thoughts on “The Last Cherry Blossom by Kathleen Burkinshaw

  1. Wow! Patricia, thank you for sharing this review of what seems to be a very important story. I haven’t seen anything from this perspective before, and it is perfect for your collection of books celebrating diversity. The two most important messages I have taken from your review are these: people all over the world, whichever side they are on, are not that much different from each other; and the use of nuclear weapons against anyone is totally unacceptable. What a great way to show young people the horrors by sharing lives first, before the tragedy occurs. We definitely need our young people to make better decisions than those made by some in our current and recent history.

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    • Thank you for your poignant comment. I appreciate your interest. Like you, I have not read a book from the perspective of a Hiroshima survivor. So, I was thrilled with this treasure. I agree, this book belongs in every classroom as part of the curriculum. It would humanize history for so many kids who will be our future decision-makers. Read this book in one sitting as I couldn’t put it down. Also a beautiful look at the culture!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. A well-written book on this subject should certainly be in every school library and in many homes. This book could be the basis for good conversations. A great review, Patricia.

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    • It is a good read for teens and adults. I had never read anything from the perspective of a child living through the horror of that infamous day! It’s a book to discuss with your kids and a must read in the classrooms.

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  3. I enjoy historical fiction like this one that keeps the important events of WWII fresh in our minds. The perspective of a child should hook readers at all levels. Thanks for sharing. I’ve added it to my list of books to read in 2017.

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    • Thanks for your comments. I love historical fiction as a way of showing our common humanity. I teared at the end and hope that our future generations will bring a different world view — one of compassion.

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  4. This looks wonderful. What a powerful story, and certainly a timely message in light of some leaders’ apparent willingness to incite nuclear war. Let history NOT repeat itself! Thank you for sharing your review.

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  5. I think books by authors that are telling a friend’s or neighbor’s or family member’s story are extremely powerful. The drive to tell it is so personal. Thanks for sharing this book!

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    • Kathleen’s mother didn’t share the story with her until she was older. It was too painful. It was when Kathleen’s daughter was in 7th grade, she wanted her mother to share her grandmother’s story with her class as they talked about WW II. Eventually, she wrote her powerful story.

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  6. Definitely think it’s important for children to read about how children have experienced war. Will add this one to my list (as well as my son’s). Pat, many thanks for reviewing this book.

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  7. This book certainly sounds intense… and important. Children should know about these events, no matter how horrific they were. And I totally agree: the use of nuclear weapons is unacceptable. Hope someone out there is listening!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your comments. I agree, children should know about these events in history so that they aren’t repeated. I hope someone is listening — it’s going to be up to parents and teachers to help children realize how connected to each other. And the use of nuclear weapons aren’t acceptable.

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  8. This sounds like a beautiful, important book. I have a feeling it will pull the heart strings, but I look forward to reading in nonetheless. Thank you so much for bringing it to my attention!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is beautiful story about the Japanese culture. But it is also heart-wrenching and hopeful! Nothing is supposed to grow for years, but the cherry blossoms bloom the next spring, showing the resilience of those who survived. I couldn’t put the book down!

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  9. Growing up, we had a book about Hiroshima on our bookshelves which I looked at a few times. Otherwise, I might not have thought much about this important topic. Thanks for highlighting this important book.

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  10. I am going to seek this one out to read. It sounds emotionally very satisfying as well as illuminating a period of history rarely presented for this age group. Thank you for your rich review, Pat.

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  11. this sounds like an interesting book. Thanks for the review. My dad was in the US Army and sent to (occupied) Japan right after the war ended. He talked of it often. He took lots of pictures and I think I remember some of them having Japanese kids in them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The author has written a very important story based on the life of her mother’s life when the atomic bomb was dropped. I agree, we should not forget that there is no reason to use nuclear weapons, especially on innocent families.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Remembering that the enemy is not quite so different from ourselves is hard for most. In our current times we would do well to remember and reflect upon that.

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  13. Pingback: The Last Cherry Blossom by Kathleen Burkinshaw | LAMS Comm -Virtual Assistant Services

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