Hideko Tamura Snider was 10 years old when the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb on her home in Hiroshima, Japan. An estimated 75,000 people were killed immediately, and another 200,000 died of radiation sickness. Snider's mother did not survive, and Snider was very ill for a long time. The devastation she witnessed in her homeland and her own family gave rise to a desire to work for cultural understanding.
Her children's book, "When a Peace Tree Blooms," was inspired by her Hiroshima experiences and her work as a longtime activist.
"When I was a child, the universe where I lived, and trusted, suddenly disappeared," says Snider. "What I learned was that the physical world can be destroyed, but what makes us human cannot be destroyed."
Snider, a retired psychiatric social worker, says she wants her book to inspire others, especially young people, to work for peace. "It's important to develop a culture of peace before the culture of power and domination has closed our minds to other possibilities," she says.
"When a Peace Tree Blooms" tells the story of a little girl who meets an elderly couple planting a seed in the woods. When she asks them what they are doing, they tell her how they survived a war in which a "scary new type of bomb" was dropped by a faraway country, and they describe the death and destruction that followed. Later, they tell her of a stranger from the faraway country who arrives for a visit. In spite of the bitterness from the war, they welcome the stranger and treat him kindly. In return, he gives them a handful of seeds before he leaves. The seeds grow into a fruit tree that gives everyone who shares the fruit feelings of warmth, happiness and friendship.
Despite the very real horrors addressed in the book, the story is spare, gentle and accessible for most children, with a sweet tone and rich illustrations by Mari Kishi. A favorite aspect of writing the book, says Snider, was working with Kishi, who was born after the war.
"My illustrator," says Snider, initially "had no real idea of the images she needed to create. It was so rewarding to see her finally understand."
Snider says the characters in the story are composites of people and situations she's encountered. The elderly couple and the girl represent the older generation and newer generations. The visitor, says Snider, represents the people she met when she first came to the U.S.
"I encountered people who endowed me with care, love and the seeds of hope," she says. "The book is about moving forward and about the gift of friendship and reconciliation."
Although her own healing, both physical and emotional, took a very long time, Snider has spent most of her adult life working to spread her message of peace and nuclear disarmament.
"I want victims of violent conflicts, deprived of humane conditions, to know that hope exists within ourselves when we realize our capacity to choose and persist in our convictions," she says.
Snider also has written a memoir, "One Sunny Day," and she speaks publicly about her life. In 2007, she founded One Sunny Day Initiatives, a nonprofit that educates the public about the consequences of nuclear weapon use, fosters reconciliation and organizes cultural exchange.
"We aim to bring individuals and groups together for collective healing. We've brought many distinguished Japanese leaders in arts and education to the area, as well as worked with students, teachers, writers and people from all walks of life," she says. Last year, Snider was appointed peace ambassador by the city of Hiroshima.
Proceeds from the sale of "When A Peace Tree Blooms" will go to charities that help the children of Fukushima after the tsunami disaster. "Hopefully, the book will continue to reach and inspire people even long after I am gone," says Snider.
Angela Decker is a freelance writer in Ashland and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.