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1001 Cranes: Excerpt from a new novel for young readers

The following is an excerpt from Naomi Hirahara’s middle-grade novel, 1001 Cranes, which tells the story of Angela Michiko Kato, a 12-year-old girl who has to spend a summer with her grandparents in Gardena, CA while her parents are going through marital problems.

Chapter Ten The Great Gambaru

That night I go to bed early. Early, early at eight o’clock.

I am sticky and my eyes are swollen, but I don’t bother to take a bath, wash my face, or even brush my teeth. And no one tells me I have to. Either they feel sorry for me or are afraid.

Around nine o’clock, somebody knocks on the door. I don’t answer, but the door opens slowly. Gramps. He sits on the edge of the bed. I can tell that he’s putting most of his weight on his feet and legs because the bed hardly sags.

“You’re going to be all right, Anjay,” he says, and I start crying again. I don’t know if it’s because he’s saying the word “all right” or my nickname. Or maybe a combination of both.

“Nothing is ever going to be right, Gramps.” My eyes feel as big as clamshells. “She won’t even tell me everything that’s going on.”

Gramps doesn’t say anything for a while. He rests his hands on his legs as if he’s deep in thought. “You know, I once felt that my world was falling apart.”

I can’t imagine Gramps ever feeling depressed or sad.

“I was a little older than you. I was hoping to go to college. But the war came and we had to move out of our house and be locked up in a camp. The schools were rotten in camp. I was mad. Real mad.

“Then my boss at the mess hall sat me down and had a talk with me. The first heart-to-heart talk I ever really had with a grown man. Even my own father never talked to me. Like my dad, my boss was from Japan and couldn’t speak English that well. But one thing he taught me was gambaru.”

“Gam-ba-roo?” I ask. It sounds like “kangaroo,” and I almost start to laugh.

“Your parents never talked to you about gambaru?”

I shake my head.

Gambaru means ‘to persevere.’ To hang in there. When everything looks bleak and rough, to charge ahead anyway.” Gramps pauses and I hear a weird knocking sound from his mouth. I know that is from his false teeth. When I was ten, I nearly died when I saw Gramps’ dentures floating in a glass of water in the bathroom. I’ve since gotten used to it. Gramps is still Gramps with or without his real teeth. “Do you know what I’m saying, Anjay?”

I don’t say anything. I don’t even nod. I don’t want to let what he’s saying soak in because it would mean I would have to change. And that’s the last thing I want to do.

He turns and pats the top of my head, the crazy hair that’s sticking out from on top of my pillow. There’s the flower smell again. “You’ll be all right. You’re tough. You’re like your mother, who’s like your grandma.”

I can’t imagine that I’m anything like either of them.

“I know you feel that everything’s been taken away from you. But you’ll get things back. It just won’t be quite like before. But it’ll still be good. Now, you sleep.”

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For more of 1001 Cranes, visit

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“1001 Cranes” is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogue are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

© 2008 Naomi Hirahara