Rachel Wada wins 2020 Elizabeth Mrazik-Cleaver Canadian Picture Book Award

On Friday evening, the winner of the 2020 Elizabeth Mrazik-Cleaver Canadian Picture Book Award was announced. The Elizabeth Mrazik-Cleaver Picture Book Award by IBBY Canada was established in 1985 and recognises exceptional artistic talent in Canadian picture books, the $1,000 prize going to an outstanding illustrator. With French and English as official languages in Canada, submissions are accepted in both languages.

43865504This year’s prize has been won by Rachel Wada for The Phone Booth in Mr. Hirota’s Garden, written by Heather Smith, published by Orca. On the IBBY Canada website, Wada’s work is described as follows:

“[Rachel’s] work is defined by heavy texture, bold color and intricate details that capture the nuances of people, places and ideas, real and surreal. Rachel’s identity as Japanese-Cantonese, an immigrant and a woman informs her artistic practice. She loves to put her own spin on traditional techniques, motifs and symbolism inspired by her cultural background. This duality of old and new is also apparent in her use of both traditional and digital mediums, and she draws inspiration from a variety of sources, from Japanese woodblock prints, Chinese pottery and ceramics, food packaging design to traditional folk art.”

The book itself, written by Heather Smith, is set in the aftermath of a tsunami that has destroyed Makio’s village. Makio has 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 neighbour, 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 travelling to the wind phone since the tsunami.

(Book information taken from the publisher’s website)

The other shortlisted illustrators and their books were:

Josée Bisaillon
Dancing with Daisy by Jan Coates (Running the Goat Books)

Gary Clement
My Winter City by James Gladstone (Groundwood Books)

Geneviève Després
Laurent, c’est moi! by Stéphanie Deslauriers (Fonfon)

Emma FitzGerald
A Pocket of Time: The Poetic Childhood of Elizabeth Bishop by Rita Wilson (Nimbus Publishing)

Julie Flett
Birdsong by Julie Flett (Greystone Books)

Julie Morstad

It Began With a Page: How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way by Kyo Maclear (Tundra Books)

Dena Seiferling
King Mouse by Cary Fagan (Tundra Books)

Sydney Smith
Small in the City by Sydney Smith (Groundwood Books)

François Thisdale
Bon Voyage, Mister Rodriguez by Christiane Duchesne (Pajama Press)

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