The Phone Booth in Mr. Hirota's Garden
Book cover
Author(s): Heather Smith
Illustrator(s): Rachel Wada
Publisher: Orca Book Publishers
Copyright Year: 2019
ISBN/ISSN: 9781459821033
Review

Makio and Mr. Hirota share many happy moments together on a hill overlooking the sea, watching fishermen unload the morning catch. Makio calls to the sea in greeting and then looks for his fisherman father while Mr. Hirota's watches for his daughter who cleans the fish. It is a daily game they play. But one day, the quiet sea roars angrily as a huge tsunami rises to engulf everything, including Makio's father and Mr. Hirota's daughter. The text size and font in tandem with the illustration lets the reader know the tsunami has destroyed much more than Makio's father and Mr. Hirota's daughter. Everyone has lost someone. Survivors share a common grief but don't know how to express their feelings. To help his own grief, Mr. Hirota secretly begins to build a telephone booth where he can "call" and talk to his daughter. It doesn't matter that the phone is not connected to anything or actually capable of calling anyone. Others begin to visit his phone booth to talk to their missing loved ones. Makio also pays a visit, telling his dad the simple and not so simple things he's done: yelling at the ocean, doing well on a math test, and also saying, "I miss you Dad." Slowly the healing begins and Makio and Mr. Hirota again play their game atop the hill, only now Mr. Hirota is on the beach cleaning up debris while Makio watches and waves hello. The cycle has come full circle with life almost back to normal. Smith's lyrical writing and use of onomatopoeia convey the talking sea and the loss Makio, Mr. Hirota, and others feel. Wada's artwork beautifully captures the tragedy with spare brush strokes and a color palette that is limited and muted, until the moment Makio is able to mourn his loss and strong reddish-orange shades appear. Text and illustration come together to make this a memorable story of love, loss, and despair tinged with the hope that comes when healing can finally begin. A note at the end tells readers that a real-life story inspired the author to write this book. This title can be read alone or aloud to a class, though the illustrations lend themselves well to a story without words. The content is similar to Holly Thompson's One Wave at a Time (Albert Whitman & Co. 2018) and the nonfiction title I Miss You: A First Look at Death (B.E.S. Publishing 2001) by Pat Thomas; but perhaps the story that is closest in spirit is Pearl Buck's The Big Wave (HarperCollins 1986), which explores similar feelings of loss. This book has a wide range of appeal and will fit into many curriculum areas.

Reviewer: Leslie Greaves Radloff, Licensed Library Media Specialist, The Heights Community School, St. Paul (Minnesota) Public Schools
Rating: Highly Recommended
Grade (as stated by Reviewer/SLC): K-2
Review Date: October 1, 2019
Product Description
When the tsunami destroyed Makio's village, Makio lost his father . . . and his voice. The entire village is silenced by grief, and the young child's anger at the ocean grows. Then one day his neighbor, Mr. Hirota, begins a mysterious project—building a phone booth in his garden. At first Makio is puzzled; the phone isn't connected to anything. It just sits there, unable to ring. But as more and more villagers are drawn to the phone booth, its purpose becomes clear to Makio: the disconnected phone is connecting people to their lost loved ones. Makio calls to the sea to return what it has taken from him and ultimately finds his voice and solace in a phone that carries words on the wind.

The Phone Booth in Mr. Hirota's Garden is inspired by the true story of the wind phone in Otsuchi, Japan, which was created by artist Itaru Sasaki. He built the phone booth so he could speak to his cousin who had passed, saying, "My thoughts couldn't be relayed over a regular phone line, I wanted them to be carried on the wind." The Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in 2011 destroyed the town of Otsuchi, claiming 10 percent of the population. Residents of Otsuchi and pilgrims from other affected communities have been traveling to the wind phone since the tsunami.
Media Type: Book, eBook
Binding: HC
# Pages: 32
Price: $19.95
Genre: Children's Books
Sub-Genre: Picture Books
Entry ID: 2226422

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