If you haven’t read Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr, you are missing out on a sad but beautiful story. I was introduced to this book while participating in the Japan Fulbright Memorial Fund Teacher Program. Another teacher on the trip told me she read the book with her students every year. If you are looking for a story that helps students develop empathy, Sadako may be for you.

Are you looking for an engaging book to read with your upper elementary students?  Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes is based on a true story and fits perfectly into a study of character development, Japan, or World War II.

Summary of Sadako of the Thousand Paper Cranes

Although this book is a work of fiction, it is based on the life of Sadako Sasaki. Sadako is a young Japanese girl who lives near Hiroshima in the 1950s. Her family tries to help her develop patience, but Sadako likes to run and is one of the best athletes in school!  One day, she starts to have trouble running and begins to tire easily. As the story progresses, readers learn that Sadako has leukemia caused by the atomic bomb. Sadako believes that if she can fold one thousand paper cranes, she will get better.  The once busy girl now has log stretches of time in bed and folding the cranes helps her pass the time. Her family and friends fold cranes, trying to help her reach her goal.  Sadly, Sadako passes away from the cancer.

Teaching the Novel

There are so many ways to integrate Sadako into your class.

  • 1. Japan or East Asian studies
  • 2. World War II
  • 3. Novel Study
  • 4. Read Aloud

Sadako began to get sick in elementary school, and the students really connect with her story. She was just a regular girl who got frustrated with her brothers and had a hard time waiting – just like so many students.  The story can be intense, but I would put it at about the same level as The Bridge to Terabithia. Some students may get emotional, but it is a story meant for elementary students – not middle school.

Teachers could really get into character development while teaching this novel. Sadako’s personality changes – has to change – as she becomes more ill. Students could discuss how she changes and how her family changes because of her illness.

This is a wonderful book to teach in an integrated unit. I used this book in connection with lessons on geography, World War II, and Japanese culture. Teachers can also make paper cranes with students and donate them to the to Children’s Peace Monument, part of the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima, Japan. People from all over the world fold paper cranes and donate them to the monument in honor of Sadako.  They keep a paper crane database and donors can write a message to send in with their donation.  For more information, see Paper Cranes and the Children’s Peace Monument.

If you would like to teach Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes as an integrated unit, my unit is available in my Teachers Pay Teachers store.