I loved Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin and when I saw Uegaki back on the lists with Ojiichan’s Gift, I had to have read for myself. Here comes another special relationship between grandfather and granddaughter. And I may have teared-up a little.
Illus. Genevieve Simms . Kids Can Press, 2019.
Hardcover Picture book, 32pp.
The story opens with this:
When Mayumi van Horton was born, her grandfather built her a garden.
It sat behind a tidy brown house nearly halfway around the world, and it was unlike any other garden she knew.
Mayumi would spend two months of every year with her grandfather, Ojiichan, learning to care for the garden and enjoy a bento lunch upon their sheltered bench. And when she wasn’t there, but longed to be, she would recall it to mind until the next visit. Until one visit when she (and the reader/listener) sees how the house and garden have gone untended, Ojiichan no longer able to tend either.
There is a beautiful scene where Mayumi sits on the stairs holding a picture frame, its shape left in a print of dust on the wall near her head. Beside it’s vacated place is a photograph of Ojiichan and Mayumi and a birthday cake. We’ll see that photo on Mayumi’s bedside back home. The photograph’s theme, as well as the garden, contributes to the overall conversation of beginnings and endings. It’s a conversation that isn’t without conflict.
Mayumi isn’t ready for what her grandfather’s change in state means. Simms composes a gorgeous overhead shot where we see Mayumi’s shadow in an angered pose–feet apart, arms out with fisted hands—cast across the gravel of the garden. She is facing off with the largest rock and she is determined to upend it. And it is unmoving—unmovable. Hers is a storm before she is able to calm—completely understandable…and beautifully rendered in text and image. Uegaki and Simms capture a great deal of emotion and meaning that telegraphs Mayumi’s will and helplessness, and the nature of life itself. Mayumi finds a way to move about the rock and incorporate it/return it to something of beauty and importance in the garden. And she comes up with a very clever gift.
The title of the book becomes two-fold as Mayumi now has a gift for her grandfather. And she creates something for them both in this new chapter that will keep them tied to the past. Neither of them can stay/return to that house with its garden. They will find other ways to carry its meaning, lessons, relationship forward.
Uegaki isn’t precious in the telling of a story that speaks to such a significant change. It’s an emotional journey that isn’t cloying, just deeply loving. You can sink into the themes or just let the joy of Ojiichan and Mayumi’s relationship just wash over you.
One of my favorite illustrations? The one at the close, on the colophon (where the copyright info, etc. is). They are a pair of rakes, different in size, hanging on pegs. Are they retired, or waiting? It’s a perfect closing image.
I sometimes encounter folk who want a story with more than a few larges words on each page: Ojiichan’s Gift is a good one for those longing for a story with many a word on the page to tell it—something that attracted me to the book after a quick flip through. Uegaki knows how to write a story, with such a steady lyrical rhythm; full of images and depth of feeling as she builds a relationship with family and the natural world. Simms was a marvelous addition to this stories creation. I can’t recommend the book enough.
Chieri Uegaki is the author of Rosie and Buttercup, Suki’s Kimono and Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin. Her books have garnered such honors as the 2015 Ezra Jack Keats Book Award. Chieri lives on the Sunshine Coast in British Columbia.
Ojiichan’s Gift is the first picture book for award-winning illustrator Genevieve Simms. Her illustration clients include House of Anansi Press, the Walrus and the Boston Globe. Genevieve lives in Toronto, Ontario.