The Phone Booth in Mr. Hirota’s Garden

Orca. Sept. 2019. 32p. Tr $19.95. ISBN 9781459821033.
K-Gr 3–Grief and healing are explored in this gentle picture book inspired by real events. In 2011, a giant tsunami hit the coast of northeastern Japan, destroying entire villages and taking the lives of thousands. In spare prose, Smith spins a quietly moving narrative that highlights the remarkable way one village found healing in the aftermath of the disaster. As young Makio mourns the death of his fisherman father, he notices his neighbor, Mr. Hirota, building something mysterious: a phone booth with a disconnected telephone. Even stranger, Mr. Hirota uses the “phone connected to nowhere” to speak to his daughter who died in the tsunami. Soon, other villagers flock to the phone booth to “call” their lost loved ones. Although Makio is still processing the anger and trauma that goes hand-in-hand with grief, he decides to try the phone himself and finds a sense of peace at last. Wada’s large-scale woodblock style illustrations, with their evocative use of color to convey emotion, are a perfect complement to the story’s restrained text. Best shared with an adult who can provide context for the tragedy, young readers will find much to discuss here, ranging from how tsunamis work to the true story of the phone booth and the various ways people cope with loss.
VERDICT The graceful way in which this book handles a sensitive and serious subject makes it a first purchase for most picture book collections.

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