Book Review: THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM by Kathleen Burkinshaw

Last Cherry BlossomThe Last Cherry Blossom
by Kathleen Burkinshaw
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Before I go any further, let me state that this is an important book! The story of 12 year old, Yuriko, will touch you in ways you may not have thought possible. Set in Hiroshima, Japan before and after the dropping of the atomic bomb, this gut-wrenching story allows us to experience the war through the eyes of a little girl. Having been taught here in America that the Japanese were our enemy at that time, this story places a human face to warfare—a little girl, supposedly our foe, who had the same simple hopes and dreams as children in America. Hopes and dreams that became enveloped, poisoned, and ultimately shattered by a giant mushroom cloud on August 6th, 1945. Based on the true life events of Ms. Burkinshaw’s mother, I hope this book will open up discussions in classrooms and homes all across the world, creating conversations about the impact war—especially nuclear war—has on innocent lives.

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Five in Five with Kathleen Burkinshaw: author of The Last Cherry Blossom

Last Cherry BlossomHey there, Kathleen! I’m so excited to have teamed up with you for the #MGGetsReal campaign—to highlight books with tough topics for “real” kids. I can’t express how important it is for people to be able to find themselves within the pages of a book, especially kids who can be so self-conscious during those awkward stages of puberty. It’s nice to kids to read about someone just like them.


Huge congrats to you on your beautiful debut, The Last Cherry Blossom and Thanks for joining me for this Five in Five. My readers and I are excited to learn more about you, so let’s get started.


Hi, Kerry. Thanks so much for having me!


  1. What made you decide to become an author and what’s your favorite thing about it?


I had always enjoyed writing, whether in a journal, essays, or poems. However, 15 years ago, I was hospitalized for over a month and was diagnosed with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD). RSD is a neurological chronic pain disease. I began writing to escape from the pain, if only for a brief time. I actually started out with a picture book (now in a drawer) that I had written for my daughter because of my hospitalizations. My favorite part of being an author is meeting with students and sharing my mother’s experience in Hiroshima with them. My second favorite part is the research prior to writing the manuscript (which I tend to get caught up in much more than I should).


The thing about grief in middle-grade books…

The Thing about Loss and Middle School Kids…

I initially wrote this as a post for the lovely girls over at Bookish Babes. They are fabulous; go visit them often! I’m reposting here as this topic came up in a discussion recently, and I was reminded of the important responsibility we, as middle-grade writers, have.


When I agreed to write an article focusing on grief and loss in the middle school years, I was excited. Then I sat down to write it and wondered what I’d gotten myself into. Kids—like all people—are complex creatures, but throw in hormones and bewilderment of where they fit in with the world and any parent will confirm that it can be a touchy three to four year span. Suffering a loss during these already emotional years can escalate a pre-teen’s grief exponentially.


I’ve heard the phrase, “Kids are resilient,” more times than I can possibly count. As a former educator, the words were sometimes thrown around the teachers’ lounge each time a student-related tragedy occurred. This isn’t to say those teachers were heartless—quite the contrary. They showed genuine anguish right along with the kids. But in the back of the teachers’ minds, they assumed that in the end the kids would bounce back.


This mentality often freaked me out. What if a kid didn’t bounce back? What if one suicide spawned another? What if the loss of a parent, friend, boyfriend, pet, or home made the black hole in a student’s heart deepen until it completely sucked them in? Sadly, I’ve seen it happen.


Loss, especially when encountered during the fragile pre-teen and teen years, can be all-consuming. At an age where a simple change of schools can be traumatic, a loss of life can feel like an insurmountable obstacle in getting back to living. It’s just too big, too heavy, too much for an adolescent to deal with alone.


You see, the thing about grief, in my experience, is that it has only one cure: hope. When things seem like they cannot possible get any worse, hope carries a person through darkness. The thought that someday—even if it’s far down the road—things will eventually get better can be the difference between life and death. A drug addict enters rehab because they have hope that things can get better. A child in despair over the loss of a pet or over a bad breakup eventually gets back to their daily routine, because there is hope that tomorrow it might not hurt as much. There’s hope that the grief will dissipate over time.


I researched many hours trying to find a middle-grade book in which the main character—despite some sort of loss or experiencing some form of grief—didn’t bounce back by the end. While I did find a few young adult books like this, and I did find some open-ended middle grade books, I didn’t find a single one that left the main character completely broken. Even the legendary, heart-wrenching books Old Yeller and Bridge to Terabithia take a slight turn for the positive at the very end. In the former, Travis eventually adopts one of Old Yeller’s puppies and names it Young Yeller. In the latter, Jesse, though distraught over the loss of his friend Leslie, manages to build a bridge for himself and his sister to cross over to Terabithia safely. Both of these books provide a hopeful ending. It seems that all middle-grade novels do. And, I began to wonder why. At first it seemed too neat. Too unrealistic. I had, after all, seen kids whose happy endings never came.


But it hit me that books for this age group have a job…to give hope. A kid who is experiencing a traumatic event doesn’t need to read a story with a depressing ending. They need to root for the characters’ lives to get better so they, themselves, will have hope for the same outcome. This is probably why I love middle-grade so much. It’s probably why I’ve felt compelled to write for kids this age. With their whole lives still ahead, the world is theirs for the taking, and with hope, they have a chance to make of it what they want.


And on that note, I want to share some of my favorite middle-grade novels that deal with themes of loss. Despite the losses, though, I hope you’ll find the joy in these gorgeous books. Happy reading.


Loss of a loved one:

Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

A Dog Called Homeless by Sarah Lean

Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata


Loss of a lifestyle and/or home:

One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

The Red Umbrella by Christina Diaz Gonzalez

Chained by Lynne Kelly

Shooting Kabul by N.H. Senzai


Loss of childhood innocence (forced to see the world in a new way):

Glory Be by Augusta Scattergood

Nature Girl by Jane Kelley


Loss of friends:

Breaking the Ice by Gail Nall

Pack of Dorks by Beth Vrabel


Personal, physical loss:

El Deafo by Cece Bell

The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart

Good Dogs, Bad Dogs

These cuties are my rescue pups. Sometimes they escape my yard and run for hours–a not-so-fun game of hide-and-seek–dogs on a walkor they’ll fight with each other over food. One is super smart (she’s a Border Collie) and if one of the other dogs is in her spot, she’ll simply go to the door, wait for me to open it, watch the other two run out, and then get comfortable in her place. She knows how to work it.

But sometimes they are super sweet and actually get along. Luckily, today was a good day and I got some plotting for a new book done on our morning walk.

Happy spring, from Florida!



Guys, I am so not tech savvy, and sadly I lost my first website. With it went all my old news posts and journal entries. *cue tears here* Sorry to any of the schools and students I’ve previously visited whose photos and comments are gone forever. I’ll try to add a few here from what I still have. Hope you’ll come back and check out the page often. Happy reading.

2013-02-24 13.07.25

Me signing a contract for an agent in NY. (more…)