Ojiichan (pronounced Oh-JEE-chan) is equivalent to “Granddad” or “Grandpa” in English, the author tells us in a small Japanese glossary at the end of this story. Mayumi van Horton, a mixed race little girl who grew up “halfway around the world,” goes to see her Ojiichan in Japan for two months every summer. When she was born, he built her a garden out of stones and sand, surrounded by bushes and trees. Every summer as she grows up, they tend the garden and share lunch there.
One summer though, everything changed. Ojiichan was now in a wheelchair and could no longer care for his house or the garden. Her parents said Ojiichan had to move, presumably to a care home. Mayumi felt sad, angry, and frustrated, but she came up with a plan. She took one of the bento boxes they used for lunches and made a little zen garden inside for her Ojiichan to take with him wherever he went. Mayumi made herself one as well to take back home. Now both she and Ojiichan could relive their time together in the garden whenever they wanted.
Genevieve Simms adds lovely watercolor illustrations to the story that ably reveal Mayumi’s emotional transitions as the story changes.
Evaluation: This story has two kinds of messages for young readers (ages 3-7). One relates to the benefits of a connection with nature, and on taking responsibility for the care of living things (both plant and human). The other is about coping with change and the effects of aging. This is not a sad book, but rather one that offers children a way to “pay forward” the love and nurturing they received when very young, when it is their turn to contribute to care-taking.
Published by Kids Can Press, 2019