Bonnie West was heartbroken when the earthquakes and tsunami hit Japan in March 2011: The epicenter was near the home of her friend Kayo Kikuchi, whom she had met in St. Paul 11 years before.
West immediately e-mailed Kikuchi. “I hope you and the family are all right. … You know you have a home here in case you need to be evacuated.”
West’s fear escalated when Kikuchi responded, saying her in-laws were missing and her young sons were terrified: “Neo [age 14 months] is OK now, I think. But Ray [4 ½] cries every night, more than usual, and every time an earthquake happens.”
Worse may come, Kikuchi wrote. If the nuclear power plant, which was only 136 miles from their home, began to leak she would indeed send the boys to West’s home.
It was then that West wrote about her hope for the boys: “Perhaps the boys see [the disaster], as children sometimes do, as a great adventure! I think I will try and write a little story for them, about how they are heroes in the earthquake and help everyone they meet.”
The plant didn’t leak, and the in-laws were found safe, but West had made a promise.
Now she had to write a book.
Her first plot had the ground opening up in a quake and two Japanese boys unearthing a buried treasure. No, no, no, too scary, said Diane Carter, a friend who had taken Japanese language lessons with West. “You need a dinosaur,” Carter said. “Boys love dinosaurs.”
And so there came to be, two years later, “Hideki and Kenji Save the Day” (Gaku Press, $10), a children’s book written and published by West and Carter. (Although the children in the book have a striking resemblance to Neo and Ray, West didn’t use their names. Instead she chose more common Japanese names.)
In the book, which is written in both English and Japanese, a baby dinosaur causes earthquakes with his huge feet. Two young Japanese boys stop the quakes by making soft slippers for the dino. After that, all was calm: “The earth didn’t shake. Rocks didn’t tumble. Branches didn’t fall from trees.” □
Book debuts at festival
The book will be available Sunday during the Japanese Lantern Lighting Festival on the grounds of the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory in Como Park. The annual event, which celebrates Japanese culture, will feature martial arts, singing, dancing, drumming, traditional flower arranging and food.
Peg Meier is Minneapolis-based freelance writer.