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Children's Fiction Disasters

The Phone Booth in Mr. Hirota's Garden

by (author) Heather Smith

illustrated by Rachel Wada

Orca Book Publishers
Initial publish date
Sep 2019
Disasters, Asia, Emotions & Feelings
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2019
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Sep 2019
    List Price
  • Downloadable audio file

    Publish Date
    Jun 2020
    List Price

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Where to buy it

Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels

  • Age: 6 to 8
  • Grade: 1 to 3
  • Reading age: 6 to 8


★ “Smith spins a quietly moving narrative...Wada’s large-scale woodblock style illustrations are a perfect complement to the story’s restrained text...The graceful way in which this book handles a sensitive and serious subject makes it a first purchase."—School Library Journal

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.

About the authors


  • Commended, The Sakura Medal Program
  • Short-listed, Rocky Mountain Book Award (RMBA)
  • Nominated, Forest of Reading Silver Birch Express Award
  • Commended, Forest of Reading Light Reads, Great Stories
  • Short-listed, BC and Yukon Book Prizes - Christie Harris Illustrated Children's Literature Prize
  • Commended, Children’s Book Council & National Council for Social Studies Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People
  • Winner, International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) Canada Elizabeth Mrazik-Cleaver Canadian Picture Book Award
  • Short-listed, Canadian Children's Book Centre (CCBC) Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award
  • Commended, CCBC Best Books for Kids & Teens
  • Commended, Vancouver Children’s Literature Roundtable Sheila Barry Best Canadian Picturebook of the Year Award - Honourable Mention
  • Commended, United States Board on Books for Young People (USBBY) Outstanding International Books List (OIB)
  • Commended, Stiftung Internationale Jugendbibliothek The White Ravens
  • Commended, Kirkus Reviews Best Picture Books of the Year
  • Nominated, Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association (PNBA) Pacific Northwest Book Awards
  • Commended, School Library Journal (SLJ) Best Books
  • Winner, National Consortium for Teaching about Asia (NCTA) Freeman Book Awards - Children’s Literature
  • Commended, Ontario Library association (OLA) Best Bets - Honourable Mention
  • Commended, Bank Street College of Education Children's Book Committee Best Children's Books of the Year

Editorial Reviews

“Touching tale of loss and resilience.”

Hakai Magazine

"Tackles tragedy with compassion and shows that beauty and community can be found in even the darkest times...The illustrations, inspired by traditional Japanese art, are my favorite from any picture book in 2019 and perfectly capture the story's themes of hope and loss. While young readers may have many questions about death, this book answers one of the biggest ones--how do we move forward? The answer, according to Mr. Hirota, is together."

Canadian Children's Book News

★ “An affecting, well-rendered resource for talking about catastrophes and grief both personal and communal.”

Publisher Weekly, starred review

“[An] affecting story...Will provide much material for thought and discussion. The artwork will also give inspiration to budding illustrators of all ages.”

CM: Canadian Review of Materials

★ “Smith spins a quietly moving narrative...Wada’s large-scale woodblock style illustrations are a perfect complement to the story’s restrained text...The graceful way in which this book handles a sensitive and serious subject makes it a first purchase for most picture book collections.”

School Library Journal, starred review

“This tender look at both personal and community loss shows how we begin to take the first small, difficult steps toward healing.”

The Horn Book

★ “A beautifully rendered tale of loss, love, grief, and gentle healing.”

Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“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...This book has a wide range of appeal and will fit into many curriculum areas. Highly Recommended.”

School Library Connection

“A moving concept, and the book might open discussion about ways to deal with death and loss.”

The Bulletin for the Center for Children's Books

“This book is an essential purchase for elementary school libraries and home libraries. Children need to learn empathy, coping skills and the simplicity of communicating to help during the healing process.”

Must Read Literature: K thru YA

“Beautifully lyrical…This story is sure to be a favourite...Highly recommended for all children’s libraries.”

Resource Links

★ “A moving tale...offers comfort and peace to those left behind.”

Booklist, starred review

“Wondrous, full of grace, and so poignant.”

Sal's Fiction Addiction

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