Books CORL (Check Off your Reading List) Challenge 2014 GB Challenges Picture Books Reading Themes War, Poetry, Refuge, Peace

Bombs and their Aftermath in Children’s Stories: Maruki’s “Hiroshima No Pika” and Briggs’ “When The Wind Blows”

Myra here.


Given what is happening in the world today, I begin to feel more and more just how relevant our current reading theme is. Today, I am highlighting the aftermath of war in two immensely powerful picturebooks that found me.

when-the-wind-blows-raymond-briggsWhen the Wind Blows

Written and Illustrated by: Raymond Briggs
Published by: Schoken Books, 1982
Borrowed from the public Library. Book photos taken by me.

Husband and wife James and Hilda (also the protagonists in Briggs’ Gentleman Jim) are preparing for the possibility of a nuclear missile heading towards England. Jim has learned about this from the public library which provided fairly-comprehensive leaflets containing governmental warnings and helpful advice on how to create temporary shelters – as ‘officially’ printed by the County Council – making this the definitive “Householder’s Guide to Survival.”

At turns funny and tragic, this graphic novel-picture book has all the authentic, lived conversation between husband-and-wife who obviously have been together for decades, have raised children together, and have survived the previous World War.


The tenderness, the mutual respect, the fondness are evident in the conversation between Jim and his “ducks”, Hilda (must be a common term of endaerment among the British). There is also the striking naiveté-bordering-on-ignorance and simplicity-of-thought-bordering-on-simple-mindedness seen in this old couple who are flummoxed about who the real enemy this time around is. As the couple tried in vain to amuse themselves as they anticipate the coming of a nuclear onslaught, they tried to find topics to discuss in great length. I had to laugh out loud at how they attempted to talk about multiculturalism or “inter-racial harmony in a multi-ethnic society” – recall that this picturebook was published in the early 80s (1982):


While the husband-and-wife survived the nuclear attack, they were unprepared for its radioactive, hair-falling, nose-bleed-inducing aftermath.


Jim remains steadfastly optimistic despite their numerous bruises, bleeding gums, and eventual hair loss, chalking these things up to varicose veins, poor dental hygiene, and aging. There is heartbreak here communicated in such burning wit, the absurdity of war depicted from the eyes of an ordinary old couple who can’t make heads nor tails of what exactly is going on. How the story ends, I shall leave for you to discover. This picturebook has actually been made into a short film. You may want to check it out, dear friends, and let me know what you think of it. Click here to be taken to an interview with Briggs about this picture book back in 2008.

I learned about this picturebook through a short lecture that British academic, Janet Evans, gave on graphic novels, comics, and picturebooks at the National Institute of Education back in 2010. Clearly the boundaries that separate one from the other are becoming less distinct and more ambiguous with the growing sophistication of the picturebook format. And this is even more evident in Raymond Briggs’ art as seen in his picturebooks like Fungus the Bogeyman which explores the existential questions and philosophical meanderings of a bogeyman, and When the Wind Blows which highlights the aftermath of war and nuclear bombing in particular.

Hiroshima No PikaIMG_0496

Written and Illustrated byToshi Maruki
Published byLothrop, Lee & Shepard Books, 1982
Borrowed from the public Library. Book photos taken by me.

This is the story of seven-year-old Mii who lived in Hiroshima with her parents. That day when the bomb landed, she and her parents were sharing a breakfast of sweet potatoes brought by cousins who lived in the country. It was a blue and cloudless morning.


The townsfolk thought they are adequately prepared for the possibility of an air-raid, which they know is coming, with their air-raid hats or hoods, the small bags of medicine they carried around with them, the water they have put on storage. They have even torn down a few old buildings and widened the streets.

Then it happened. A sudden, terrible light flashed all around. The light was bright orange – then white, like thousands of lightning bolts all striking at once. Violent shock waves followed, and buildings trembled and began to collapse.


Moments before the Flash, United States Air Force bomber Enola Gay had flown over the city and released a top-secret explosive. The explosive was an atomic bomb, which had been given the name “Little Boy” by the B-29’s crew.

“Little Boy” fell on Hiroshima at 8:15 on the morning of August 6, 1945.


Mii’s father is caught in the flames. With superhuman strength, Mii’s mother carries her father onto her back as the entire family ran towards the river. From swallows with burnt wings and floating bodies and dead babies, this is an unflinching portrayal of what happened in Hiroshima not too long ago.

The sky grew dark, and there was a rumble of thunder. It began to rain. Though it was midsummer, the air turned very cold, and the rain was black and sticky.

Then a rainbow arched across the sky, pushing the dark away. It gleamed brightly over the dead and the wounded.

And even four days after the bomb, Mii was clutching on to her chopsticks from that long-ago breakfast in another lifetime. Mii survived the war, but she never grew an inch taller since that day when she was seven years old. And even after so many years, there are still slivers of glass embedded in her skull – remnants of the time when the world went bright-orange then white.


From the book cover alone, one could already tell that this is a visually-arresting picturebook. The narrative is equally as powerful. It is one that would leave an indelible mark in one’s consciousness. The Afterword written by Toshi Maruki sent chills up my spine. She also explained what made her write this story and whom this story is for:

I am now past seventy years old. I have neither children nor grandchildren. But I have written this book for grandchildren everywhere. It took me a very long time to complete it. It is very difficult to tell young people about something very bad that happened, in the hope that their knowing will keep it from happening again.

The notion that picturebooks are only for babies are continually being challenged by these kinds of narratives that explore very difficult and tragic themes, and render further support to the growing realization that indeed, as Schwartz noted, “the picture book has come of age.”

You may also wish to visit Fats’ review of “The Little Yellow Bottle” which also talks about bombing and its effect on children.


Click on the image to be taken to her review.



Reading Challenge Update: 191, 192 (25)

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

1 comment on “Bombs and their Aftermath in Children’s Stories: Maruki’s “Hiroshima No Pika” and Briggs’ “When The Wind Blows”

  1. Laura Shovan

    These are powerful looks at a difficult subject. Thanks for sharing the reviews. I’d like to suggest a historical novel (MG) by Ellen Klages called The Green Glass Sea. It’s about two girls whose parents are atomic bomb scientists. I recommend it because the book shows how much conflict there was among the scientists about whether or not the bomb should be used — once they realized how powerful it was.


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