It’s always a happy day when a book arrives in the mail. My doorbell rang the other morning with one of Tuttle Publishing’s latest offerings, The Peace Tree from Hiroshima. While we’ve just missed the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and the end of World War II, the message in this book never goes out of date so I was excited to sit down and read it with my daughter.
The Peace Tree from Hiroshima tells the story of Miyajima, a bonsai tree who was taken from the island of the same name just south of Hiroshima City nearly 400 years ago. The small white pine is taken to the home of Itaro, and trimmed in the bonsai style. Over the centuries, each family member passes down the tree to the next generation and the little tree – now not nearly as diminutive anymore – thrives under their care.
In 1945, the atomic bomb detonates a mere two miles from the home where Miyajima is kept. Miraculously, both human family members and their valued bonsai trees are spared from the bomb’s deadly effects. In 1979, the current family member caring for the bonsai decides to send Miyajima to the United States, as part of a “gift package” of 50 trees from Japan in celebration of the American bicentennial. Miyajima ends up in a new home in the National Arboretum of Washington DC, where the white pine earns the nickname of “the peace tree”.
While the name Miyajima was one created solely for this book, the story is a true one. The Yamaki Pine – as it is more widely known – was indeed a gift from Masaru Yamaki to the United States and actually did survive the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. The Author’s Note at the end of the book tells a bit more about the bonsai’s journey from Japan to America, and there is also a useful glossary on the art of bonsai.
The story itself is an easy read, although unexpectedly told in the first person (from the tree’s perspective). The illustrations are a palette of soothing earth tones, with green and brown dominating the color scene. The pages dealing with the war and the bombing are darker and more somber, but should be in no way visually frightening to young children. The tree itself is beautifully depicted as it grows from small pine to full bonsai-style tree.
I read this book to my four-year-old, and I would say that her age is a bit young for this story. While my daughter appreciated seeing the scenes of the island of Miyajima (a place we have visited as a family) and even asked to read the book a second time, the content is slightly above her understanding and the vocabulary used is often beyond her grasp. This would be a perfect book for a late elementary-age classroom (Grades 2-5, perhaps) as a way to perhaps introduce the topic of war and reconciliation.
**The Peace Tree from Hiroshima was sent to me as a complimentary copy to review. The opinions above are solely my own.**