Soul Lanterns

Soul Lanterns
Age Range
Release Date
March 16, 2021
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The haunting and poignant story of a how a young Japanese girl's understanding of the historic and tragic bombing of Hiroshima is transformed by a memorial lantern-floating ceremony.

Twelve-year-old Nozomi lives in the Japanese city of Hiroshima. She wasn't even born when the bombing of Hiroshima took place. Every year Nozomi joins her family at the lantern-floating ceremony to honor those lost in the bombing. People write the names of their deceased loved ones along with messages of peace, on paper lanterns and set them afloat on the river. This year Nozomi realizes that her mother always releases one lantern with no name. She begins to ask questions, and when complicated stories of loss and loneliness unfold, Nozomi and her friends come up with a creative way to share their loved ones' experiences. By opening people's eyes to the struggles they all keep hidden, the project teaches the entire community new ways to show compassion.

Soul Lanterns is an honest exploration of what happened on August 6, 1945, and offers readers a glimpse not only into the rich cultural history of Japan but also into the intimate lives of those who recognize--better than most--the urgent need for peace.

Editor review

1 review
Layers of Japanese History
(Updated: June 06, 2021)
Overall rating
Plot/Characters/Writing Style
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Nozomi lives in the suburbs of Hiroshima in 1970. Every year, she goes with her family to a lantern lighting ceremony on the river that honors the people lost in "the flash", the bombing on August 6th. This year, she sees a woman staring at her. The woman asks how old she is (she's 12), and then how old her mother is. Nozomi knows that her father lost his first wife and two of his sisters, and her mother also lost people. One of the lanterns that her mother lights, however, has no name on it, which makes her curious. A school project on "Hiroshima Then and Now" gets Nozomi and her friends thinking about the people around them who would have lived through the bombing. Nozomi hears a story about her art teacher, Mr. Yoshioka, who lost his girlfriend, and who found only a comb he had given her after the bombing. Shun finds out more about his uncommunicative neighbor, Mrs. Sudo, who lost her husband in the war and her young son in the bombing. Kozo learns about his aunt, Sumi, who was a teacher who tried to save six of her students. The more the students delve into the past, the most they are able to appreciate the horrible human toll that the war took on those around them. Nozomi even finds out about the woman who stared at her during the lantern ceremony, and is able to settle questions about a past relationship that her mother had. Mr. Yoshioka, who is suffering from tuberculosis and spends some time in a sanatorium, helps the students process the different stories they have heard and to understand the role that Japan played in World War II as well as the lingering effects that this history had on the community.
Good Points
This was certainly a fresh and unusual historical perspective, and I love the fact that this was originally published in Japan! Such a window into how a population dealt with a horrific historical event. Setting this book in 1970, when survivors were still plentiful but when the average twelve year old would have felt very removed from the events was excellent. Having three friends at school working on a project, and asking people around them what they remember will resonate with my readers, who are often assigned projects where they have to ask adults about 9/11 or the Challenger Disaster. I very much enjoyed this one.

I would love to see more books by #ownvoices authors translated for the US middle grade market, like this one and Kashiwaba Temple Alley Summer. There could have been a little more information, for US readers, about how Japan reacted to the bombings with calls for peace. The Japanese reaction to the events of World War II is something I didn't really learn about until after college.

This is a fantastic addition to books about the aftermath of WWII in Japan, such as Dicicco and Sasaki's The Complete Story of Sadako Sasaki , Yep's Hiroshima, Stelson,'s Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor's Story, Burkinshaw's The Last Cherry Blossom, Smith's The Blossom and the Firefly , Napoli's In a Flash and Kadohata's A Place to Belong.
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