This is the sky in Taipei. Do not be fooled. This is not a normal day. Taipei, after all, is a city and it has the pollution that goes with it. Still, the sky was so beautiful that I had to take a picture. Since my uncle’s death in 2010, the blue sky has become much more important to me. Whether I notice it or not, it shows up every day. If that’s not unconditional love, I don’t know what is. A few months after my uncle’s death, I went for a walk. The sky was so blue that day. You may think Hawaii gets blue skies everyday and granted we do get more than our fair share but you don’t always notice it. But that day, I did. I also heard my uncle’s voice in my ear telling me that the man pulled down the sky. I loved that image of a man pulling down the sky like a blanket. Over the course of that walk, I got the whole story. I repeated it to myself over and over until I got home and was able to write it all down. But then I did nothing with it. Life got busy and I pretty much forgot that it was there. Then almost a year later, the Great Kanto earthquake and tsunami happened in Japan. Like everyone else I watched the news reports and felt helpless because I didn’t know how I could contribute. Then I remembered my story. I thought to myself, what if this small story could in some small way brighten the day of a child who has lost loved ones? What if these words could give them hope the way they gave me hope after my uncle died? That’s when I began to revise the story in earnest. I wanted it to be illustrated and published so that children in Japan could have something tangible to read and hopefully feel comforted in some way. While the manuscript has won the Lee and Low New Voices Honor Award, it still waits for an awesome publisher and illustrator. But time is moving on. And I don’t want people to forget about Japan nor do I want the Japanese people to think we have forgotten about them. So since this story was a gift to me from my uncle, it is only fitting that it be shared. I hope in this way it reaches Japan shores now rather than later. Hope you will enjoy my small story. Please share it with anyone young or old who has experienced loss and needs a little comfort. This is my picture book manuscript:
The Sky Blanket by Wendy Miyake
Grandfather never missed Kotaro’s birthday. At the end of every summer, he traveled from his farm in the mountains down to their house by the sea. And on that day, Kotaro waited for the first streaks of blue to appear in the sky, because he knew Grandfather would not be far behind.
There was no one like Grandfather. He could run faster than the sea’s playful waves. He could find the biggest sand crabs and the prettiest seashells. And when he held the strings in his hands, Papa’s kites almost touched the sky.
Then the last of the blue faded into night and Grandfather had to return to his farm in the mountains. Kotaro hated saying goodbye. “Don’t worry, little one. You’ll see me again next summer.”
The end of summer came again and the first streaks of blue appeared in the sky. But when Kotaro had awakened, there was no sign of Grandfather. Even when the sky grew so blue it was electric and the clouds scattered across it like little sheep, no one appeared on the mountain road.
Then the sun began to go down and the sky burned a fiery red.
“Don’t go,” Kotaro begged the blue sky. But it would not listen.
Now the world was asleep. Papa, Mama, the ocean—even the sky was already dreaming. Kotaro pulled the covers to his chin. He could feel his cheeks burn with tears. Maybe Papa was right. Maybe Grandfather lived too far away now to visit him.
Just as Kotaro was about to give up, he heard something outside. He popped up to the window again. There was no wind. Not one leaf moved on the trees. Still, he was sure he had heard it.
Kotaro tiptoed past Mama and Papa and silently slipped outside. The night air was heavy and still, yet the paper tail of the wind chime danced happily.
His eyes searched deep into the night. He did not see anything at first. Then a shadow began to slowly form from the darkness. It grew bigger and bigger as it drew closer and closer. Kotaro backed up toward the door. He was so scared that he could not move any further! He shut his eyes and waited.
“Happy Birthday, Kotaro.”
The deep slow rumble of a voice vibrated in Kotaro’s heart. He turned to look in its direction. Immediately, he recognized the crooked grin and the snow-white hair that lay atop the man’s head like a tuft of clouds. Kotaro ran hard and leaped into the man’s arms. “I knew you’d come!”
“A promise is a promise, right?”
The two of them walked towards the beach. The moon was rising and the sand was awash in its light. “Hold out your hands,” Grandfather said. Kotaro cupped his hands in front of him. The moonlight poured in and spilled out onto the sand. Where it fell, a big sand crab unearthed itself and a beautiful shell was waiting in its place.
Kotaro was beyond words. There was so much he wanted to tell Grandfather, but all he could do was hug him and cry.
“What’s wrong?” Grandfather knelt down in front of him.
“I wanted the blue sky to wait for you. I wanted us to see it together like we always did. But it wouldn’t listen.”
Grandfather wiped away Kotaro’s tears. Then he stood up and lifted him high above his head. He reached higher and higher through the clouds, past the stars, the moon and all the planets until the night sky was before them, so close that Kotaro could reach out and touch it.
The night was soft and velvety. When Kotaro held the dark fabric in his hand and brought it to his cheeks, he saw something peeking out from underneath. He quickly pushed the night away and there was the sky as blue as it was today.
“It’s yours,” Grandfather said. “Pull it down.”
Kotaro pulled the blue sky toward him and it cascaded down to earth like a big blanket that came to rest at Grandfather’s feet.
The blanket was big and blue, dotted with little clouds. Grandfather fastened it around Kotaro like a cape and he ran up and down the beach laughing, the sky flying behind him.
“Is the sky really mine?” Kotaro asked Grandfather.
“It is. And when you see it, I’ll always be there.”
When Kotaro opened his eyes, it was already morning. The first streaks of blue began to appear in the sky. He pulled the sky blanket closer to him. Grandfather was right. He was not alone. The sky was above him and all around him.
Just as Grandfather said he would be.