March 14, 2016

Tokyo Digs a Garden

by Jon-Erik Lappano
Illustrated by Kellen Hatanaka
Groundwood Books
32 pp.
Ages 3-7
March 2016

Imagine a small house that was once part of a countryside lush with forests and meadows and wildlife now dwarfed by skyscrapers and hidden among the overdeveloped city buildings and billboards.  This is the house of Tokyo and his parents and his grandfather, the original owner of the country home, and Kevin the cat.

When an elderly woman on a bicycle hands Tokyo three seeds, telling him “…they will grow into whatever you wish”, the boy removes a brick from their yard and plants them in the soil beneath. The next day, there are three small wildflowers. After breakfast, there is moss covering the bricks.  By dinner, there are trees and shrubs and more wildflowers. And by the next day, “the garden had grown up and over the buldings, across the streets, dwon the road, over the cars and into the expressway.” With time, the city is made over into a wild entity of rivers and forests and wildlife and the people adapt to these changes because “Gardens have to grow somewhere, after all.

From Tokyo Digs a Garden
by Jon-Erik Lappano, illus. by Kellen Hatanaka
The message is clear.  Mother Nature will not be stopped and, no matter how much humans develop the land into unrecognizable entities, it will grow and become what it should.  Tokyo and his grandfather’s honest acceptance of this phenomenon is both educational and calming.  Jon-Erik Lappano gets the tone just right, never preachy, always intuitive, and even playful. (Kevin’s love of ice cream is quite clear.)  And Kellen Hatanaka, whose artwork first decorated Work: An Occupational ABC (Groundwood, 2014), dignifies that tone with his astute and beautiful illustrations.  Think of a Henri Rousseau jungle but with an art deco flair and you’ll get an idea of the lushness of Kellen Hatanaka’s garden in Tokyo Digs a Garden.  More brilliant in colour and stronger in line, the artwork carries the story from message to revelation.

Tokyo Digs a Garden plants the seeds for discussion of nature and land development and sows the dramatic beauty of transformation.

From Tokyo Digs a Garden by
Jon-Erik Lappano, illus. by Kellen Hatanaka

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