When Mayumi van Horton was born,
her grandfather built her a garden.
It sat behind a tiny brown house nearly
halfway around the world, and it was unlike
any other garden she knew.
The garden referenced in the above excerpt was truly unique in every respect. For, unlike the gardens Mayumi might see back home with flowers or even vegetables, this was a stone garden, with “big ones, little ones and ones in between”, bordered by pine, maple and boxwood shrubs and lovely tress. Tended, cultivated and nourished by her and her grandfather when she visits Japan every year, the serene garden represents a bonding experience for the two. In fact, as Mayumi learns so much about caring for this special place, the garden, itself, becomes a character in this charming story.
Having a place to quietly reflect on the pair’s hard work is also part of their labor of love. Her grandfather’s gift, as the title indicates, shows how important small things can be in one’s life and underscores their intergenerational love. The beauty of nature and taking care of this amazing garden are paramount to the connection they share. Sadly, when her grandfather can no longer live on his own and tend his beloved garden, Mayumi is distraught. After grappling with the new reality, she cleverly comes up with a gift for her grandfather that will help keep the memory of this exceptional place in his heart.
The lush, green watercolours, interspersed with various shades of orange, enhance a delightful and moving story. Simms includes interesting perspectives and views of the remarkable garden. The illustrations also cleverly show Mayumi growing up over the years and highlight her love of raking the pebbles to create an interesting pattern.
Ojiichan’s Gift, a warm and satisfying story, provides a perfect opportunity to discuss any number of important topics one might have with young readers, from dual heritage, appreciation of nature, aging, grief, to the inevitability of change.
Several Japanese phrases that are beautifully incorporated into the story are explained in the glossary provided.
Reesa Cohen is a retired Instructor of Children’s Literature and Information Literacy at the Faculty of Education, University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Manitoba.