Sandra Moore first learned about the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum’s Yamaki pine years ago during a tour of the Museum. “Like many visitors, I was stunned when I heard how old the tree was, and that one family had cared for it since the 1600s,” she says. “But what really stuck with me was the image of Mr. Yamaki flying 7,000 miles to make sure his tree was being lovingly cared for in its new home at the National Arboretum.”
Soon after that tour, Moore – who has a professional background in writing, editing and fundraising – began work on a children’s picture book. The result is “The Peace Tree from Hiroshima: The Little Bonsai with a Big Story” about the nearly 400-year-old tree that survived the atomic bombing at Hiroshima. The book was published in July 2015.
Moore spent many hours at the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum doing research, including interviews with curator Jack Sustic and former curator James Hughes. She also contacted the Yamaki family in Hiroshima. That correspondence led to a friendship with Shigeru Yamaki, grandson of Masaru Yamaki, who had donated the tree to the Arboretum in 1976.
When an editor at Tuttle Publishing asked if Moore had an illustrator in mind, she expressed a strong preference for a Japanese or Japanese American illustrator in order to bring that cultural sensitivity and understanding to the book. Kazumi Wilds had illustrated a children’s book called “All About Japan” and agreed to the project. When the collaboration began, Wilds was living in Japan so the author and illustrator communicated via Skype. Later, when Wilds began graduate school in the U.S., she flew to Washington to meet both Moore and the famous tree.
Moore says she’s gratified by the positive response to the book, from both children and people in the bonsai community. One of her favorite endorsements was published in The San Diego Book review: “I loved this book by Sandra Moore…My favorite picture showed all the flowers growing again after the place was bombed. I thought it was crazy that the tree was sooooo old! It was almost as old as my grandpa! That is reeeally old!”
When the author and illustrator appeared at World Bonsai Day at the Arboretum over the summer, they were delighted by interest in their book. “There are not many hibakusha (the Japanese term for a Hiroshima survivor) left and bonsai trees that survived the bombing are rarer still,” says Moore. “I think people are drawn to examples of ‘living history,’ and the Yamaki pine is a great one.” Also, this summer, she met two hibakusha – a man in his 80s, and a woman in her 70s, at an American University event commemorating the 70th anniversary of the bombing. She presented each of them a copy of the book.