The Phone Booth in Mr. Hirota’s Garden

Heather Smith, illus. by Rachel Wada. Orca, $19.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-4598-2103-3
In a story based on a garden telephone booth and the 2011 tsunami that hit Japan, Smith (The Agony of Bun O’Keefe) imagines a Japanese boy named Makio and his neighbor, Mr. Hirota. Each morning, the two vie to spot Makio’s fisherman father as he unloads the day’s catch, and Mr. Hirota’s daughter, who helps to clean the fish (“It was one of their favorite games”). But Makio’s father and Mr. Hirota’s daughter are both lost in a giant wave—Wada illustrates with strongly composed watercolor spreads whose masses of black shadow convey foreboding and sorrow—and Makio, grief-stricken, stops speaking. Mr. Hirota builds a white phone booth in his garden, the telephone “connected to nowhere.” Makio watches him enter it to talk to his dead daughter, and other villagers begin visiting it, too. After screaming at the ocean, which offers only its customary response, Makio decides to try the phone booth himself. “Guess what? I did really well on my math test. ...I miss you, Dad.” Speaking directly to his departed family about ordinary events gives Makio his voice back and helps him traverse grief. An affecting, well-rendered resource for talking about catastrophes and grief both personal and communal. Ages 6–8. (Sept.)
Reviewed on : 08/14/2019
Release date: 09/17/2019
Genre: Children's
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