Book review, from Tokyo – This story began in a room. A private room in a hospital in Sapporo, Hokkaido. Mion Maeda, then a Primary 3 child, was warded again for tests and treatment for focal cortical dysplasia. This was another of her frequent but short-term stays since she was diagnosed with this neurodevelopmental condition when she was three. One day, as she rolled under the overbed table, she discovered messages scribbled on to its underside. Messages from children like herself who had been in that same 2×1 room. She felt the urge to write an essay despite her condition affecting her writing hand. The essay won the unanimous vote of the judges panel for the top prize for the 2020 Children’s Non-fiction Literature Contest held by Kita-Kyushu City. It also caught the eye of publishers Shogakukan, who reached out to her and brought in well-loved illustrator Koshiro Hata to work with her to create 『二平方メートルの世界で』(Niheihou meetoru no sekai de, lit. In a 2m2 world).
The book opens with a view of Sapporo’s famed main street to set the scene for the essay, which starts,
My name is Mion Maeda. I am a P3 student from Hokkaido.
The bed in my hospital room is about 2m long and 1m wide.
A curtain goes right round the bed.
When I’m here, this is my world.
A place where I do everything – sleep, eat, play and study.
When she speaks of her family and her feelings, Maeda’s words hit home. Direct and unvarnished. Loneliness. From nuclear medicine diagnosis, where she and her mother have to be stay apart for an hour.
Fear. From the flurry of footsteps during the night shift that makes her think if she no longer has much time left to wonder what if, how come, or why.
It just happened to be me.
Who cannot move around too much before her tests. Who has to fast. Who has only rice, miso soup and onion slices for breakfast. Who is told she shouldn’t go on excursions because of her condition. Who just hates it all. Who wishes for just one day when she didn’t need to take medication. Who swallows those words before they are uttered. But who also knows that if she did, it would hurt everyone who is doing their best to help.
And so I keep it in.
One day, as she waited for her test, she rolled under her overbed table and found the scribblings of children like herself.
Yeah! I’m discharging tomorrow! 16 months is way too long!
Keep on fighting!
I want eat everything!
I want to be healthy
Sorry for all the trouble mom
Hidden from sight were words from children who stayed there before her.
Children who also fought their own fight.
They spoke to her. And she knew she was not alone.
Someone once said to me, “You were chosen because you can overcome this.”
Don’t choose me.
She chose to share her story. Of her struggles in hospital.
Of finding those words. Of savoring each and every moment of her life.
To put it into words her realization of how wonderful it is to be alive.
For the chance to live the way only she can.
Sometimes solemn. Sometimes miserable.
A 9 year-old’s very real essay on life and her struggles that holds much for anyone to reflect on.
Ill or not.
Title: 『二平方メートルの世界で』(Niheihou meetoru no sekai de, lit. In a 2m2 world) text by Mion Maeda, illustrations by Koshiro Hata
Publisher: Shogakukan Inc., 2021
STV Video feature (in Japanese) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YBvE0iI2b3k