Hiroshima and Nagasaki: Still Teaching Lessons To This Generation

Discuss Laurence Yep's novella, Hiroshima, to inspire future historical fiction writers.

By Alicia Johnson

soldier playing a trumpet

Laurence Yep writes in his novella, Hiroshima"This...will make thousands of people sick. Many will die later that day. More will fall ill and die in a year. Some will die in five years, or twenty. People are still dying today." While this book was written for elementary school-aged children, I read it to my 8th graders in class one day to introduce a historical-fiction writing assignment. The entire class was quiet, with all eyes focused on me for the several minutes it took me to read it. RARE! The novella is about the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, with attention focused mostly on how it effected one little girl. Yep says his protagonist is a "composite of several children who were in Hiroshima when the bomb dropped and who later came to the United States." Often, writers of historical fiction use this technique. Reading this type of literature can help readers not only understand the genre, but understand how horrific events inspire writers to use these events as a catalyst to try to bring about change.

As an English teacher, I didn't really teach World War II. However, I did share enough prose and poetry on the subject of WWII to help them gain a clear understanding of the huge effect it had on the world.

Ideas for Class Discussion

After reading Hiroshima as a class, we discussed the many aspects of the Japanese perspective that Yep brings to his story. For instance, we considered Japanese lifestyle, national support in the war effort, faith, vulnerability, and resilience. We compared these Japanese character traits to those of Americans, noting the many similarities. Another good topic is the mood of the story and the tone of the narrator. In our class discussions, I ask my students to choose phrases from the text that support their thoughts and opinions. 

Suggested Assignments

Have learners pair up to research a war-torn area for the purpose of studying the people. They should pay careful attention to their faith, ways of life, schools, economy, landscape, etc.  With their findings, have your class create a short novella of their own. It should be based on the region they researched, historically accurate, and told from a fictional narrator's point of view. They must also document their sources. Allow time for peer editing, and revising. Finally, each story can be presented to the class. 

Through this assignment, pupils will:

  1. Gain an understanding of the research involved in historical-fiction writing.
  2. Understand more clearly the lives that are touched each year by war.
  3. Realize the creative tools they have at their fingertips to convey a message.

Flexibility and Extension

You may make this assignment as big or as small as you desire. Base the research on the amount of time available in the computer lab or library, and how much independent research you want your pupils to conduct. If you are short on time, you can choose the regions to be researched ahead of time. Or, you can ask the school librarian (as I did many times) to have certain books readily available for easy student access. Do the same for websites if your computer lab time is limited. If you want to extend the lesson, require more independent research. You can also delve further into more specific Hiroshima and Nagasaki lessons by using the links from Lesson Planet listed below. 

No matter how you choose to approach this assignment, be aware that the writing produced by your class will be wonderfully imaginative, yet often quite insightful.  An assignment like this allows the horrific events of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to instruct and inspire.

Connecting to the Common Core

Reading: Informational Text

RI.11.7. Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words in order to address a question or solve a problem.

Reading Literature

RL.11.3. Analyze the impact of the author’s choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama (e.g., where a story is set, how the action is ordered, how the characters are introduced and developed).

RL.11.4. Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including words with multiple meanings or language that is particularly fresh, engaging, or beautiful. (Include Shakespeare as well as other authors.)

Reading Literacy in History/Social Studies

RH.11.6.Evaluate authors’ differing points of view on the same historical event or issue by assessing the authors’ claims, reasoning, and evidence.

RH.11.7. Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., quantitative data, video, multimedia) in order to address a question or solve a problem.

Relevant Lessons:

Always Remember or Eventually Forget

In this New York Times created lesson, your class will study the Times article "An Anniversary to Forget" in which the Japanese author explains that modern (younger) Japanese try to forget the past (which includes the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki) and look more toward the future, which sometimes clashes with Japan's older generation.  Pupils are asked to give a close read to the article. In addition to answering comprehension questions, they have an opportunity to incorporate their own opinions and beliefs and compare them to the author's.  After generating some interview questions in class, they will ultimately interview an older adult and create a compare and contrast paper based on their own opinions versus the interview results.  It is an interesting perspective on the memory of the bombing; one you don't expect - I like surprises.

Stop Action and Assess Alternatives

Have you ever wanted to change history?  This will challenge young minds to consider options. Careful research will be necessary of the times and people involved in the events they are looking to re-evaluate, such as the dropping of the atom bomb in Japan to end WWII, the Cherokee Removal, the Transcontinental Railroad, or the Immigration Act of 1924.  After they are familiar with the subject matter, they will discuss (not debate) a better solution that matches the times, the situations and people involved.  One great way to help gain a clear understanding of a situation is to discuss how it could have been done differently, based on facts, not fantasy.

Learning Empathy Through Art

Pieces of art can often speak as loudly as words. This is demonstrated through The Jack S. Blanton Museum of Art's lesson about the effects of the bombing on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Haiku templates and rubrics are included as well as links to a site containing first-hand accounts of the bombings.  Classes will comment on art, research details about the bombing, have group discussions, and write Haikus.  Excellent lesson for reaching the many creative learning styles in each class.