Review of A Bowl Full of Peace: A True Story

A Bowl Full of Peace: A True Story
by Caren Stelson; illus. by Akira Kusaka
Intermediate, Middle School    Carolrhoda    40 pp.    g
8/20    978-1-5415-2148-3    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-5415-8219-4    $18.95

Each evening Sachiko’s family gathers around their table in Nagasaki, Japan. Before the Second World War, Grandmother’s bowl is the centerpiece of every meal, filled with squid, eel, octopus, and udon noodles; as the war rages on, it contains only wheat balls in boiled water. Sachiko is just six years old when the atomic bomb drops. She survives the bomb, which kills three of her ­brothers — one immediately, and two later from radiation exposure. Surviving family returns to Nagasaki two years later to find their house in ashes but Grandmother’s bowl unharmed — a symbol of survival. Stelson (Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story, rev. 1/17) builds her debut picture book around this one element of Sachiko’s story. Kusaka’s illustrations effectively focus on Sachiko’s family and the ways they used the bowl to create an orderly family life even in the midst of, and after, a devastating war. The ceramic bowl is the focal point of many of the uncluttered digital paintings: placed in the center of a square table, surrounded with formally arranged chopsticks and dishes. This image is repeated through the book, providing the reader with breathing space amidst dark images of war. The bomb itself is powerfully shown as a ball of fire in a series of spreads, with red light glowing through heavy black clouds. The third-person narrative’s calm, direct tone and the hopeful ending make this difficult, sophisticated material manageable for older elementary-school and middle-school children. An author’s note includes additional information about Japan during the war, international efforts to abolish nuclear weapons, and a brief bibliography.

From the July/August 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Maeve Visser Knoth
Maeve Visser Knoth is currently a children’s librarian for the San Mateo County Library in San Mateo, California. She has, over the years, worked as a public librarian, school librarian, teacher, and bookseller, and is a reviewer for The Horn Book Guide.

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