Telling Sachiko’s Story by Caren Stelson
When I asked Sachiko Yasui if we could work together to write her story about surviving the Nagasaki atomic bomb as a six-year-old child a half mile from Ground Zero, she agreed—under one condition: Sachiko would tell me her story as long as she could look into my eyes. I knew then I would need to travel to Nagasaki.
I first met Sachiko Yasui in 2005 while Sachiko was on a peace mission to the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, where I live. Sachiko’s story shocked me. Why didn’t Americans know what happened to the Japanese who survived the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Most of us have no idea of their life-long struggle to heal physically and mentally from such radioactive devastation. Few of us understand the discrimination the “hibakusha,” the atomic bomb survivors, faced throughout their lives. How many of us can list the cancers they suffered? When I heard Sachiko’s story of the atomic bombing, her long recovery, her pathway to peace by studying Helen Keller, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr., I knew we needed Sachiko’s story in America. We needed her story for all Americans, particularly for our young people.
This was my starting point for my six-year-journey to capture Sachiko’s story on the page. I traveled to Nagasaki five times to interview Sachiko and research World War II in Japan. With the help of the Saint Paul-Nagasaki Sister City Committee, I connected with many supporters in Nagasaki, including the president of the Nagasaki-Saint Paul Sister City Committee. Dr. Takayuki Miyanishi who became Sachiko and my interpreter.
Writing Sachiko’s story has changed me as a person and a writer. I think about what I can do for peace every day, from small, daily kindnesses to promoting peace through my work. Certainly writing SACHIKO was an act of peace. Sachiko tells us, “Every word is precious.” As a writer, I’ve come to believe whole-heartedly in that statement.
SACHIKO: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story, published by Carolrhoda/Lerner Publishing Group, was released October 1, 2016. To my surprise, SACHIKO is now on the 2016 longlist of the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. Booklist’s starred review called SACHIKO “luminous, enduring, utterly necessary.” School Library Journal’s starred review concluded this about SACHIKO—a “sensitive and well-crafted account of a Nagasaki bomb survivor is an essential addition to World War II biography collections for middle school students. And on
October 25, 2016, the Washington Post named SACHIKO one of the best children’s and young adult books of the month.
I was right. We all need Sachiko’s story to remind us of the horrors of nuclear war and the critical need to work for peace in our communities and in the world. May our next generation of peacemakers find courage and hope in Sachiko’s story.
Caren Stelson is the author of Sachiko: A Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Survivor’s Story and other works for children and young adults. To write Sachiko, Caren traveled to Nagasaki five times to interview Sachiko Yasui and research her story. Caren has had a long career in education, as a teacher, writer-in-residence and freelance writer. After receiving her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Hamline University in 2009, Caren decided it was time to write the stories that needed her attention. Caren and her husband Kim have two grown children. They split their time between home in Minneapolis and the small town of Lanesboro.
For more information about SACHIKO, please go to www.carenstelson.com