Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, a fictionalized biography, brings to life the story of a young girl who dies of leukemia, having been one of the thousands of people exposed to extreme levels of radiation when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan in 1945. Many elements of the fictionalized biography genre are found in this book.
Most notably, this work contains dialogue which was created to make this story read more like a novel, which children would find interesting. The narrative starts out in the August of 1954 and continues through until the passing of Sadako in October 1955. The narration plays out like a story. The first lines in the book read “One morning in August 1954 Sadako ran outside into the street as soon as she was dressed […] Sadako was always on the lookout for good luck signs” (9-10). In these lines, one can see how this story’s fictionalized biography elements lend narrative dialogue which reads both as a story and includes details which may not have even happened.
The above paragraph clearly sets up an introduction of Sadako’s yearning for good luck, which she dearly tried to fulfill in her assemblage of hundreds of paper cranes. One also learns here of Sadako’s love for running; she was a spirited young girl who tried out for her school’s track team.
Another element of fictionalized biography is the dialogue between characters, which is included in this work. Many verbal exchanges, conversational asides, and quips are found in this book. While they do help to make this piece something that children can enjoy more as a story, they are creations of the author, and are thus fiction. The numerous exchanged between Sadako, her family, and friends add a personal, dynamic element to Sadako that one may not glean from a simple recollection of the objective facts of her life. They also bring a sense of life to the work which children will find is quite similar to more conventional fiction stories in which characters involve themselves in numerous, often lengthy, exchanges.
We learn of Sadako’s feelings and thoughts in this book, and that is another mark of a fictionalized biography. This book’s most moving moments perhaps come when we ponder into the mind of the dying Sadako and wonders what she wonders… what is death really like? What does death feel like? What is the afterlife really like? Fictionalized biographies take such liberties. While nobody knows what Sadako must have thought on her death bed (or any other time in her life, for that matter) the author is allowed to meander down such paths when penning books of this genre because fictionalized biographies typically voyage into the minds of the people they feature. This technique achieves the same result as the third-person omniscient voice, which is highly common in fiction works.
The beautiful, realistic sketches in this book add another dimension to this book not necessarily seen in regular biographies. They capture scenes in as they play out in the story. The sequencing of these illustrations is highly reminiscent of a more conventional fiction novel and help depict for young readers the story and its details. The fictionalized biography is aided by these illustrations, for they are imagined creations of what certain events may have looked liked as they occurred in Sadako’s life.
My reading of “Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes.” Coerr, E. Puffin Books, 1977.