10 – 14 Middle/Secondary Ed’s choice

The Last Paper Crane. A Tale from Hiroshima


Kerry Drewery, Illustrated by Natsko Seki, Hot Key Books, 292pp, 9781471408472, £7.99, pbk

Ichiro is looking out of the window. His friend Hiro is tidying the mess left by his little sister, Keiko who will now be in her Kindergarten class. Then it happens; a blinding whiteness – and the world changes. This is Hiroshima, 6th August 1945; the first atom bomb has just exploded. Ichiro survives and we learn of his experience as he finally tells his granddaughter, now in the 21st century of the burden he has carried all his life and which we now learn as well.

This is an outstanding and

heartfelt book which should find its way into every school and library. We know a great deal about World War II as it affected Europe and the UK. We hear much less of the Japanese experience. Drewery’s novel goes a long way to redress this imbalance.

Ichiro’s voice is direct,

and immediate – but at the same time very non-judgemental. This is not a story about ‘them’ and ‘us’; rather we see an individual facing the consequences of the actions of others surviving, but at a cost that will affect him throughout his life. We are also shown the kindness of people in extreme situation – and the possibility of hope. It could have been quite conventional in presentation – it would still have been effective as a story, the prose unaffected and direct. However, Ichiro’s narrative is framed by the words of his

Here in the Real World HHHH

Sara Pennypacker, Harper Collins, 320pp, 978 0 00 837169 2, £7.99, pbk

ve long been producing excellent Children’s

literature in the United

States has a fine tradition of looking at the teenager as a social misfit, of acknowledging individuals who decide to go their own way; and of celebrating the contribution that such kids can make to the larger society. Sara

Pennypacker’s latest book

is about this and much more. The title is a reference to the two ways of looking at the world shown by its lonely protagonists. There is Ware, a thoughtful and often anxious boy, who worries that seeing things differently and sometimes enjoying his solitude may mean that he never fits in. And there is Jolene, a girl whose answer to

life’s battering is self-reliance

and low expectations of the world around her. They come together while

That said, it is all put together so well and within the understanding of a younger teenage reader. Ware and Jolene are convincing and endearing characters, each in their own way; and readers will be rooting for them both well before the wished-for, and genuinely moving, climax. CB

The One that Got Away HHHH

Jan Mark, Roffo Court Press, 357pp., 978-0-35473-2-4, pbk

Aurelia, history consultant to the

government of the day, would not have

approved. Up there in the

year 2099 she was producing a programme to show how little had changed over the previous hundred years of the country’s social life. The government was worried that people were still getting the wrong idea about what things were like in the past, still taken in by the old people in their care homes afflicted by Kieselguhr’s Syndrome

with their

granddaughter as she tells us about her concern for her grandfather and then her determination to help him. This is in the form of a verse novel in which the narrative is interspersed with reflective haikus that highlight feelings, reactions, ideas. The result is powerful and immersive bringing two voices into play to bridge the gap of years and ensuring that Ichiro’s words draw the reader into the reality of his experiences by making them different not just through the tone but visually. Adding to impact of the whole are the delicate ink decorations and illustrations in soft blacks, greys and white – paper cranes flutter across the pages while atmospheric scenes peopled with shadowy figures mirror the world Ichiro is inhabiting as he searches for Keiko. This is a story embedded in

history, but one that will reflect many realities recommended. FH

today; highly

spending the summer transforming the vacant lot left by the demolition of a local church. In the course of the novel, their differences complementary. Ware’s

prove dreaming

is spurred into action by Jolene’s determination to survive; and Ware’s thoughtfulness

and enthusiasm

supports and encourages Jolene. Yet, until the very end of the novel, they argue about the nature of reality: not in any philosophical sense but about what you can expect of other people and of life. For Jolene, Ware lives in the magical fantasy land inside his head and she constantly meets his ambitious plans for the lot with the injunction to live in the real world. The novel itself weaves cleverly between the polar ends of the argument but its ending, not unexpectedly, and in tune with that notion of perfectibility that runs through American thought, comes down firmly on the side of the transforming possibilities of idealism.


memories of the old days. Thus, it would not be good for an Advanced Literate boy in Year Six in 2099 to get hold of the other twenty-nine stories in Jan Mark’s The One that Got Away. Why – it was nothing less than a compendium of all Granny’s deluded recollections. Kieselguhr’s Syndrome is indeed

the only story in the thirty of The One that Got Away that takes us outside the quiditties of family life set in what is mostly a Kentish suburb in the decades after 1945. Two thirds of the contents concern themselves variably with what children experience, or what they get up to, in the mostly stable, middle-class

households of the

period. Several are very slight: Mum’s old school friend brings her repressed four-year-old to stay for a night and is appalled when Anthea introduces him to unexpected excitements through a walk in the park – a bad leopard with red spots, a Greasy Witch... (Nothing to be Afraid of); two poor girls – one of the few families where the father has scarpered – show Maureen how to get rid of a wart (‘Charming!’); eldest and roughest of the Barmy Burtons likes to escape to peaceful contemplation among a family of

marrows (Marrow Hill). Oddly, the last tale in the book, but hardly worthy of inclusion, is William’s Version which looks to be a plagiarism of Mary Norton’s wonderful Paul’s Tale. At least half of these domestic though

stories are injected with

mystery – inexplicable ghost stories. Staying at Granny’s for the first time at Christmas Stephanie and Marnie have their stockings stolen by Father Christmas’s

no-good brother who

comes down the chimney in the middle of the night (No Good Claus); in Uncle Matthew Dad is haunted by his father’s twin brother who was killed in the War and is up to no good, seemingly trying to take revenge on the survivors. Dad has learned to escape him but he is now moving up a generation to haunt his daughter as well.

Although several of the inclusions

here have the air of being prompted to meet an occasion rather than by being a story urgently wanting to be told (there’s a helpful list of first appearances at the end), Jan Mark’s ability to captivate the reader by her conversational,

storytelling voice,

by her wit, and her gift for simile (‘Min was visibly crumpling like a wet tissue’, ‘Miss Taylor had legs like bath loofahs stuffed into hairy black socks’...) This comes to the fore in the nine other stories set in local schools which stimulate stronger plots, much entertaining dialogue, and give the opportunity for satire at the expense of

adults, especially the teachers,

as well as their reluctant charges. As the title of one of the best, Send Three and Fourpence, we are Going to a Dance, indicates, she is not above pinching a comic idea, but her handling of the elusive message ‘Miss Middleton wants you to see her tomorrow before assembly and take a dead frog’ gives rise to sustained comedy at which Mark’s gifts characterisation and dialogue

for are

pre-eminent. And the same could go for such splendid inventions as Chutzpah where a bolshie ‘new girl’ causes mayhem in a school which she has no intention of joining; or Time and the Hour, centering on a sweepstake (forbidden,

of course)

over administrative time-wasting; or, counter productively, The Choice is Yours where an innocent girl suffers through the

sarcastic rigidity and

rivalry of two teachers. Aurelia would certainly have wished

to suppress all evidence of a society that could permit all these deviations from the centrally-controlled

life –

Jan Mark is like one big Granny with a head full of deplorable memories – but what, I wonder, of the children of 2020? How, they may think, could all those same activities, events, intercommunications

have accounts with Facebook taken

place in those dim days without help from an i-pad or an i-phone or


Instagram? How could the poor sods have survived? BA

Books for Keeps No.241 March 2020 27

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