I’m sure many of you have read or heard of the book Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes about the aftermath of the Hiroshima bombing, or at least heard of the tradition of folding paper cranes in Japan.
1001 Cranes by Naomi Hirahara takes a look at how that tradition was changed in America by the Japanese Americans and turned into a display used for celebrations, like weddings and anniversaries. Through these displays, 12-year-old Angela Kato learns to come to terms with disruptions in her family, beginning with her parents’ impending divorce. Despite being American through and through for generations, her family still clings to many aspects of the Japanese culture, including an independence to not rely on others and suffering in silence from not “monku” (complaining).
When I started reading the book, I realized that the book takes place in the city where I work now, Gardena, and its environs. I practically grew up in Gardena, and I’ve read a lot of books, but this was the first time that I had ever read a book set in this specific city. Beverly Hills, Hollywood, maybe even Long Beach I can understand, but Gardena? Not that it’s a bad thing. I think more books should be set in places I know.
Most of my students live in or near Gardena, and the center where I teach is located there, so this book is perfect for them. I actually work within walking distance of the Buddhist temple that I think is described in the book.
And not only was the main city where I am now, but the city where my sister and I always stop to eat In-N-Out at on our way down from the Bay Area, Kettleman City, is also mentioned when the main character drives down from near Stanford to Gardena with her mom. My sister graduated from Berkeley and is doing a Masters program at CSU East Bay right now, so we’ve taken the trip quite a few times.
I picked up this book when I was browsing the library to find books for my 5th and 6th graders last year, all of whom are Korean American girls. Most, if not all, also have an interest in Japanese culture through their exposure to anime and manga. I’m not Japanese American, either (although many of my friends growing up were), but many parts of the book resonated with my experiences growing up as an Asian American.
You don’t have to be an Asian American girl to get something out of this book, though. Hirahara is a wonderful storyteller, and the pacing and tone will keep even reluctant readers interested. The book also teaches valuable lessons about family and dealing with separation and loss.
This book is especially good for Asian American girls around middle school age, but it can be read by advanced upper elementary readers and can be interesting for high school and beyond. Parents should be aware that it has some adolescent themes (dating, first kiss).