As 2019 slowly comes to a close and the School Library Journal Best Books are out, Transatlantic is proud to see THE PHONE BOOTH IN MR. HIROTA’S GARDEN, written by Heather Smith and illustrated by Rachel Wada, was selected as a Best Picture Book of the year!

About SLJ‘s Best Books:

“Across SLJ’s Best Books 2019 list, readers will find tender and joyful celebrations of families and intergenerational friendships, delightfully goofy series installments, deft and poignant coming-of-age narratives, wildly original speculative fiction, and revelatory informational works that shatter false mythologies. This year, we invited select reviewers and experts to serve on subcommittees, each chaired by an in-house editor, thereby broadening the scope of books considered and culminating in an outstanding collection of 92 titles spanning picture books, transitional chapter books, middle grade, young adult, nonfiction, and graphic novels.”

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.

Heather Smith is the author of three YA novels, one middle grade verse novel, and three picture books. The Agony of Bun O’Keefe, received starred reviews from Kirkus and Quill & Quire, was named a best book of 2017 by Kirkus, Bank Street College of Education, The Globe & Mail, and Quill & Quire (honorable mention), was shortlisted for the Amy Mathers Teen Book Award and the Geoffrey Bilson Historical Fiction Award, is a White Raven selection, won the Ruth & Sylvia Schwartz Award, won the White Pine Award, and has been optioned for film/TV (Ilana C. Frank). Her middle grade verse novel, Ebb & Flow received starred reviews from School Library Journal and Quill & Quire, was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award, won the Winterset Award, and won the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award. Smith is originally from Newfoundland, and now lives in Waterloo, Ontario, with her husband and three children. Her east coast roots inspire much of her writing.

Rachel Wada was born in Japan, grew up briefly in Hong Kong and China, and now lives and works in Vancouver. She started drawing at a very young age, perhaps as a way of transcending the language barriers of the cities she grew up in. Rachel’s cultural roots and upbringing continue to inspire her work to this day. She graduated with a BFA in Illustration from Emily Carr University of Art and Design in 2016. Her illustrative style is characterized by rich textures, colours and details executed both traditionally and digitally. She is shortlisted for the Pacific Northwest Book Award for her children’s book debut, The Phonebooth in Mr. Hirota’s Garden written by Heather Smith (Orca Book Publishers). The book has received four starred reviews, and been named a Best Picture Book of 2019 by both Kirkus Reviews and School Library Journal. Rachel’s work can also be found in newspapers, magazines and online publications.

Rachel Wada and Heather Smith are represented Amy Tompkins.