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The phone booth in Mr. Hirota's garden
2019
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Summary
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.
Trade Reviews
School Library Journal Review
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.--Allison Tran, Mission Viejo Library, CA
Booklist Review
Loss, grief, and gradual acceptance are beautifully covered in a moving tale based on events that took place in Japan. Makio's father, as well as the daughter of his neighbor, Mr. Hirota, are both swept out to sea when a tsunami hits the shore of their fishing village: Everyone lost someone the day the big wave came. Some time after that tragic day, Makio watches as his neighbor builds a phone booth on a hill overlooking the ocean. Inside the booth sits a telephone that connects to nothing but brings consolation to the villagers who wish to communicate with their lost loved ones. Atmospheric watercolors and pencil-and-ink illustrations are digitally assembled and deftly display the sadness felt by the boy and older man. Dark illustrations reflect the destruction, while hope and healing are revealed in the gradual lightening of the pictures. One poignant painting shows the child sitting at the end of a pier, remembering a time, mirrored on the water, when he and his father held hands before their lives were changed forever. The idea of finding a way to talk with people who have passed on offers comfort and peace to those left behind.--Maryann Owen Copyright 2019 Booklist
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