This moving tale about life's changes, the feelings they arouse, and the possibility of creative response was inspired in part by Chieri Uegaki's father, a traditional Japanese landscaper and gardener. We follow the travels of Mayumi van Horton, who flies halfway around the world every summer to visit her grandfather, who built her a Zen garden. She loves to look at the varied rock shapes, to hear the creak of a pine bough, and — most of all — to rake the small pebbles in wavy, zigzag, straight, and ripple designs. Then she and her grandfather, Ojiichan, sit together and silently enjoy her handiwork. Illustrator Genevieve Simms carries us into the simplicity and beauty of this spare and elegant design.
Mayumi has known this summer rhythm all her life, so she feels acutely distressed to discover one summer that Ojiichan's house is dusty and unkept, and the garden looks overgrown and deserted. She understands why her parents have been telling her that Ojiichan cannot live there anymore. We see him in a wheelchair now, as he tells Mayumi that the garden has been waiting for her. She steps outside while he naps, and from above, we see her angry shadow, fists clenched, as she faces the largest rock. She channels all her anger into trying to push it over, but it won't budge. Then she kicks the gravel, spraying it everywhere until a rock hits her in the face. Spent, she sags to the ground, looking at the mess she's made.
As so often happens with grief, Mayumi's physical expression of anger releases energy that helps her see creative possibilities. She starts by raking the garden, but then she has an even more vital idea, which helps both Ojiichan and Mayumi keep the garden close to them even when his house must be sold.
Children ages 5-8 will be fortunate to come upon this book, with its gentle reminders of kindness, acceptance, and the ongoing ties of family. If they've never experienced grief, it will provide gentle preparation, and if they already have, they will be able to understand Mayumi's hurt, anger, and ultimately, the maturing of her love.