Tokyo Digs a Garden, by Jon-Erik Lappano and Kellen Hatanaka, is a surreal story. It’s a fantasy, a fairy tale, with magic seeds and a very odd cat named Kevin.
The narrator speaks of the stories Tokyo’s grandfather likes to tell, about how things used to be, how their little white house was once surrounded by hills, forests, meadows, and streams. How deer once grazed, foxes ran free, and salmon leapt from the streams. But times change. The city ate all that up. “Cities had to eat something, after all.” The illustrations on this spread are very clever. A spatula, giant spork, fork, and a whisk are chimney stacks. Buildings have faces, mouths. One has a pipe or straw leading to the stream, sucking it dry. A tree is being cut down by a knife and fork. Buildings are bottles and drink cans. So much symbolism here. We move on to the present, where, one sunny spring afternoon, an old woman gives Tokyo three magic seeds. These seeds are planted. Three wildflowers grow. “Tokyo’s garden kept growing,” and growing.
This book is similar to The Curious Garden, with its environmental theme. The illustrations are unique. Necks are elongated. People, all those except for Tokyo and his Grandfather, are portrayed in profile or are very far away. You never see their eyes. Tokyo and his Grandfather wear glasses, and the only indication of eyes can be found on one page. Animals act as animals, except for Tokyo’s cat, and the one fox (Tokyo in his dream) that wears a cap and glasses. Kevin the cat freaks me out, while the kids thought he was funny. Perhaps this book is better described as a dream—one you wake from thinking, That was weird, but also one you’d like to experience again. This book is growing on me.