Tokyo Digs a Garden.jpg

TOKYO DIGS A GARDEN could be the love child of The Little House and The Curious Garden. Oh, and I think it’s related to Sidewalk Flowers, too. A must-read for kids AND adults who love picture books, this magical and subversive fable about the role of nature is my pick this week for Perfect Picture Book Friday.


Written by: Jon-Erik Lappano

Illustrated by: Kellen Hatanaka

Groundwood Books, 2016, Fiction

For Ages: 4 and UP

Themes/Topics: environmentalism, green spaces, nature, magic, fables, imagination

First line:

Tokyo lived with his mother, his father, his grandfather and a cat named Kevin in a small house that stood among tall buildings.

Summary (from publisher): 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?

Why I LOVE This Book: I love the way the tables are turned in this story. As in The Little House, the city encroaches on a house that used to live in nature. At the beginning of the story we learn that Tokyo’s grandfather loved to tell stories of how things used to be. The little house where they’d always lived used to be surrounded by nature until “the city had eaten it all up.” Later, after Tokyo has planted magical seeds and grown a garden that took over the city, his grandfather says the garden is much too big and asks, “What are we going to do?” After some thought, Tokyo replies that he thinks “that we will just have to get used to it.” As the narrator adds, “Gardens have to grow somewhere, after all.” Wow!

While I don’t believe the author is suggesting we let nature take over our cities, I do think this book is meant to spark discussions about suburban sprawl, city planning, and the vital role of nature – even for city-dwellers!

Ideas for Teachers: The art in this book – created digitally using watercolor, ink drawings, and collage – is stunning. The colors are vivid; the shapes are bold. I can imagine this book being used as a model for students studying collage.

Teachers might also use the story in a unit on the environment/environmentalism or as a stellar example of a modern fable in a unit on fairy tales and fables.

Upper-elementary-school students may enjoy reading how this book came to life. The author and illustrator discuss the book’s journey from inspiration to publication here:

(For a colossal list of links to picture book reviews, along with resources, please visit Susanna Leonard Hill’s site:


8 thoughts on “Perfect Picture Book Friday: TOKYO DIGS A GARDEN

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