I don't think that there is a better anti-war story written for 6- to 12-year-olds than Sadako and the Thousand Cranes, by Eleanor Coerr. It is somber yet fast paced. It is well-written and all the more moving because it is based on a true story of a girl in Japan who developed leukemia after being exposed to the radiation of the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima.
According to Japanese myth, because a crane can live for 1,000 years, if a person who is sick folds 1,000 origami cranes, the gods will grant his or her wish to be healthy again. Sadako, along with her friends and relatives, works at the task of folding the paper cranes. She makes it only to 644 before the disease overcomes her and she dies.
I have used this book various times in the early elementary grades, the last in 1995 during the 50th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. I also chose it because a dad, visiting because his son was "Special Person of the Week," had given a colorful and engaging presentation glorifying bombers.
Judging from their level of concentration and the expressions on their faces, the kids in my class were enthralled with Sadako. As one girl wrote in a book report, "At the end of each chapter there is a sort of a mystery, and I like mysteries."
Even though the students knew the ending from the preface of the book, they were shocked when Sadako died. "What? She died?" several kids said in disbelief. I saw tears in their eyes, even as we were reading about the uplifting actions of Sadako's classmates.