CM . . .
. Volume XXII Number 21. . . .February 5, 2016
Tokyo Digs a Garden.
Jon-Erik Lappano. Illustrated by Kellen Hatanaka.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press, 2015.
32 pp., hardcover & pdf, $18.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55498-798-6 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-55498-799-3 (pdf).
Kindergarten-grade 4 / Ages 5-9.
Review by Gillian Richardson.
At lunch, Tokyo put the seeds on the table.
Grandfather looked at the seeds. Then he looked up at the small piece of sky peeking out between the tall buildings.
“Today is a good day for planting,” he said.
Tokyo gulped down his glass of water, pretending he was a city drinking up a deep, cold lake.
Tokyo went into his backyard where nothing was growing. Not even a weed.
He looked at the ground and wondered where to plant the seeds. A little bug crawled slowly across the bricks before disappearing into a crack.
Tokyo had an idea. He lifted a brick, and underneath was cool, sandy soil. He made three holes with his finger, dropped one seed into each, and quietly made his wish. Then Tokyo covered the seeds with dirt.
If you aren’t lucky enough, but yearn to live in a natural setting, you’ll be able to relate to this imaginative tale, with echoes of Virginia Lee Burton’s 1942 classic picture book, The Little House. This time, the story is written from a young boy’s viewpoint as he listens to his grandfather’s stories of “how things used to be” before the family’s small house was almost swallowed up by tall city buildings. With images in his mind of the home’s former country setting, Tokyo meets an old woman (Mother Nature?) who gives him three seeds. Finding a minuscule patch of soil under a brick, Tokyo plants them, and he and his grandfather are amazed at the speed of vegetative growth. In only a day or two, the plants have taken over every possible space in the city, and wildlife moves in. It changes everything…but they happily decide they will “just have to get used to it.” The closing line, “Gardens have to grow somewhere, after all”, feels just right as a hopeful message for anyone weary of pavement.
That message shines through the watercolor/ink/collage illustrations. To begin, the cityscape is crowded, full of sharp angles, featureless, drab in color, empty of living things. The small house, in red and white, is the only bright spot. Contrast that with the following page—how Tokyo’s grandfather remembered “the hills and forest and meadows and streams” with abundant animals and birds. The way the city as the consumer of that natural setting is portrayed is clever: note the eating utensils for chimneys and destruction tools. The picture of the newly overgrown cityscape is a riot of color and soft shapes, and the final image, once people have accepted the change, is bright, airy, inviting, busy with life. Readers might also enjoy following Tokyo’s cat, Kevin, through his changes of mood as the story unfolds.
Tokyo Digs a Garden will resonate with many urban children and their parents who may seek the rural outdoors whenever possible. Its feel-good tone will inspire discussion about why the natural world will always demand, and should be given, a place in our lives. Even though many of us have to get used to the synthetic character of city life, there’s no reason not to incorporate as much of the wild as we can to feed our souls. As Tokyo’s grandfather wisely states, “Today is a good day for planting.”
Gillian Richardson is a freelance writer living in BC.
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