Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Miracle Tree by Christobel Mattingley

IBBY recently nominated two outstanding Australian authors/illustrators for the Hans Christian Andersen award. Even though Bob Graham and Christobel Mattingley were not successful it is wonderful to see their names put forward for this prestigious honor.

To celebrate this, IBBY NSW recently hosted an afternoon with Bob Graham and Christobel Mattingley. I was able to purchase a copy of The Miracle Tree, a book I first read in 1985. This book tells the important story of family and community recovering after the dropping of the atomic bomb in this case in Nagasaki. By coincidence I re-read Sadako and the Thousand paper cranes a couple of weeks ago. These two books compliment each other very well. Sadako is living in Hiroshima when the bomb is dropped. Even though she was only a baby Sadako claims to remember this catastrophic event. As the story opens she is excited to attend the Peace Day commemoration. Sadako is now eleven years old. A short time after this special day Sadako feels the first symptoms of the sickness.

Sadako’s friend has a wonderful idea. “I’ve figured out a way for you to get well,’ she said proudly. ‘Watch!’ She cut a piece of gold paper into a large square. In a short time she had folded it over and over into a beautiful crane.” The girls now make a plan to fold 1000 cranes so that Sadako can live for 1000 years. While the ending is inevitably sad, Sadako and the thousand paper cranes contains an important message about hope and peace in our world. When you visit the peace park in the city of Hiroshima you can see a statue to Sadako decorated with thousands of cranes. We have this book in our school library along with an abridged picture book edition and DVD.

This same message of peace is at the heart of The Miracle Tree. Taro has been sent away to fight in the war. Arriving back in Japan, after the bombing, he discovers that his new bride Hanako has been working in Nagasaki. Taro searches for her everywhere but he does not find her. He helps with the clean up of the city by becoming a gardener. This helps with his personal healing. He tends trees all over the city and plants a little pine tree in the corner of a garden near a church. While this is happening Hanako’s mother has begun to search for her daughter. There are wounds to heal here too. Hanako had married Taro without her mother’s consent and in her anger the mother burned the letters from her daughter without opening them. Meanwhile Hanako herself has suffered horrendous injuries but she is still alive. Christobel Mattingley skillfully weaves a story around the lives of these three people and a little pine tree that will become their Miracle tree at Christmas.

This book made me think about Tree of Cranes which looks at the celebration of Christmas in Japan. You might also like to look for two important picture books about the events surrounding the bombing of Hiroshima – My Hiroshima by Junko Mirimoto and Hiroshima story by Toshi Maruki. While I did appreciate re-reading The Miracle Tree can I also direct you to the best book, in my opinion, by Christobel Mattingley in our school library - The Angel with a mouth-organ. This is also a book about World War II and listening to Christobel herself I now find the inpiration for this came from true events in the life of the illustrator Astra Lacis. This makes the reading even more poignant. Read more here.

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