The Peace Tree from Hiroshima: The Little Bonsai with a Big Story
Reviewed by Sandy and Tom Farley
By Sandra Moore, illustrated by Kazumi Wilds. Tuttle Publishing, 2015. 32 pages. $14.95/hardcover; $14.99/eBook. Recommended for ages 8 and up.
Knowing some bonsai growers, we were drawn to The Peace Tree from Hiroshima, a charming book about the generations of men who cared for a tree that survived Hiroshima, and in 1976 was given to the U.S. Arboretum in a cultural exchange. Though the book is illustrated for children and the readability level is about third grade, we find it more likely to have more appeal for peace-loving adults and those interested in things Japanese. Our fathers, who both spent some time in Japan after the Second World War, would have loved it and probably would have thought of others of their generation to share it with.
Narrative nonfiction with nonhuman narrators can be clever and creative, as in the short monologues in the Basher Science series. The growing of a miniature tree, however, is a long, slow process with little action, change, or discovery. The Peace Tree as main character has few conflicts as it tells of the aging of devoted caregivers over three centuries until it survives a cataclysmic event and an overseas voyage to become a symbol of international friendship. The author, Sandra Moore, is a journalist, and that is reflected in the informative aspect of the book with its attached glossary and references. Her story isn’t as engaging by itself as it can be when read aloud by an adult with a personal connection to its culture and message. The book won the 2015 Gelett Burgess Award for Best Intercultural Book and the 2015 Silver Evergreen Medal for World Peace.
For use in First-day school, it would be useful to pair it with other stories of Hiroshima, such as Sadako or one of the many stories lovingly illustrated by Alan Say about his Japanese and American family. To visit the Peace Tree at the National Arboretum, check out the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum (bonsai-nbf.org).