Saturday, November 10, 2018

Review - Tokyo Digs a Garden

Tokyo Digs a Garden
by Jon-Erik Lappano
illustrated by Kellen Hatanaka
Date: 2016
Publisher: Groundwood Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

Winner of the 2016 Governor General's Literary Award for Young People's Literature — Illustrated Books

Tokyo lives in a small house between giant buildings with his family and his cat, Kevin. For years, highways and skyscrapers have been built up around the family’s house where once there were hills and trees. Will they ever experience the natural world again?

One day, an old woman offers Tokyo seeds, telling him they will grow into whatever he wishes. Tokyo and his grandfather are astonished when the seeds grow into a forest so lush that it takes over the entire city overnight. Soon the whole city has gone wild, with animals roaming where cars once drove. But is this a problem to be surmounted, or a new way of living to be embraced?

With Tokyo Digs a Garden, Jon-Erik Lappano and Kellen Hatanaka have created a thoughtful and inspiring fable of environmentalism and imagination.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This won awards? That just goes to show how taste is subjective.

I thought this book was absolutely horrific. It would've given me nightmares as a child. Basically, a boy uses magic seeds to cause an apocalypse. The book then goes on to ignore all of the consequences of a sudden breakdown of infrastructure (and implies that you'll still be able to get ice cream, even though nature has taken over every building, road, and modern convenience we take for granted every day). The trees take over the city; foliage grows over cars; the hydrants flood the streets; and wild animals rampage everywhere, in a weird mish-mash that sees bison and bears hobnobbing with hippos and monkeys. And this is all portrayed as good, as something humans will just have to get used to. What happens when waste starts flowing through the flooded streets, causing outbreaks of disease? Or when workers are gored to death by the deer in their office lobby? It's one thing to wish for more nature in urban settings, but this goes way too far, glorifying a return to the days of danger and disease.

Also, the cat, Kevin, is just plain creepy. He's way too human, and the illustrations made me shudder. I wasn't a fan of the illustrations at all, really, but part of those feelings may have been coloured by my absolute loathing of the book's message. (Look, I'm not saying that environmentalism is bad. It's the glorification of what is essentially a nature apocalypse that I don't agree with. Teaching kids that a natural disaster is a positive thing is going to be a hard sell... especially to kids who've lived through things like floods.)

I didn't go into this expecting to hate it; but now that I've read it, I wish I hadn't. It's sad that this is what passes for an award-winning picture book in Canada. Was there really nothing better that year?

Quotable moment:

Premise: 1/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: 2/5
Illustrations: 0/5
Originality: 2/5

Enjoyment: 0/5

Overall: 0.83 out of 5

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