CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 17 . . . . January 5, 2018
Sakura loves spending time with Obaachan under the pretty cherry blossom trees, but, when her father gets a new job in America, she must leave her grandmother and her home behind. Her new life is lonely until she meets Luke, a quiet boy in her neighbourhood who becomes Sakura's friend and makes America a little more familiar. In the winter, however, Sakura returns to Japan to see her sick grandmother for the last time, and after Sakura's back with Luke, she can't escape the pain of her heavy heart. But as time passes and winter turns to spring, Luke shows Sakura that she can keep a little piece of her grandmother—and her old home—with her, even in her new life.
Sakura's Cherry Blossoms is a lovely story about the bonds of family, friends, and home. Written in a series of tanka poems—traditional Japanese poems similar in style to haiku but with the addition of two extra lines—this is the story of a little girl navigating a strange new life in a place far from home.
Telling this story through a series of short poems works well for showcasing the wondrous and confusing fluctuations of big life changes. Initially, Sakura is excited to fly to America, but when she discovers her new home is nothing like her old one, she feels very alone. She finds her new language difficult to learn, and she misses Obaachan. When her neighbour Luke shows her the stars through his telescope, Sakura makes her first friend in America and begins to find her new life and language easier to grasp. But then, in the cold of winter, she's told she has to return to her old home to visit her sick grandmother. The trip is a mournful one, and afterwards Sakura has trouble forgetting her pain. Only in springtime, when cherry blossoms like the ones in Japan cover the land in pink and remind Sakura of her beloved Obaachan, does Sakura learn that, even after sadness, there can again be beauty and warmth.
While all of Misa Saburi's illustrations are a joy to look at, her depictions of trees in Sakura's Cherry Blossoms/i> really stand out as strong points in this already solid book. The cherry blossoms, both in the beginning of the story and again at the end, are pale pink and delicate, giving the whole landscape a sense of airiness and warmth. Contrasted with this is the bare tree Sakura passes in the winter when she returns home to visit her ailing grandmother. Shown through the window of a dark car, the empty branches and solid shades of the surrounding grey green sky and white land emphasize the desolate stillness of the season and the situation Sakura is facing. And perhaps the most stunning of all is when Sakura compares stars to flowers, bridging her interests with Luke's—an idea illustrated by a dark tree spotted not with leaves or petals, but with bright, shining stars.
Sakura's Cherry Blossoms is a beautiful book both in its tanka inspired text and its soft, expressive images. Featuring a wide breadth of subjects—including moving, making friends, losing a family member, and the changing of the seasons— Sakura's tale is accessible to a large audience, and the poetic verse makes this story an excellent choice for poetry study.
Meredith Cleversey, a librarian in Cambridge, ON, loves to read, write, and live in a world of pure imagination.