CM . . . .
Volume VII Number 9 . . . . January 5, 2001
"When I was very young, I once spent a summer at my grandmother's home. Far from the flat, dry land I had always known, her house looked out over the Pacific."So begins Flags, a story as simple and elegant as a Japanese garden. When Mary visits her grandmother, she makes friends with Mr. Hiroshi who lives next door. Through Mary's eyes, the reader experiences Mr. Hiroshi's wonderful garden, a place of sand and soft green moss, where "gravelled paths and stepping stones wandered between the clipped evergreens." In the centre of the garden is a pond ringed with small blue irises, or flags, where lazy carp--"koi" in Japanese--swim in circles. When Mary asks her friend if his garden will ever be finished, Mr. Hiroshi replies enigmatically, "Such things take time. But then a garden must begin somewhere." All too soon, the war disrupts Mr. Hiroshi's life, and he and other Canadians of Japanese ancestry are relocated by government decree. Mary says goodbye to her friend and offers to take care of his garden until he comes back. However, it soon becomes clear that Mr. Hiroshi will not be coming home. Throughout the long summer, Mary tends to the garden next door. When the house is sold and new people move in, Mary knows what she must do to fulfill her promise to Mr. Hiroshi.
Maxine Trottier, who has earned the Canadian Library Association's Book of the Year Award, is a prolific writer. In Flags, as in her 1998 story, The Walking Stick (a tale set in Vietnam), the author has demonstrated her gift for taking a small piece of a larger story and developing it through the eyes of a child. Her story of innocence and friendship set against a backdrop of suspicion and racism is a moving and powerful one. Award-winning artist Paul Morin brings the beauty of the setting and the strength of the characters into focus with his stunning paintings.
In her note at end of the book, Maxine Trottier gives the reader a capsule history of Japanese Canadians, ending with their deportation during the war and the long-overdue apology from the Canadian government which did not occur until 1988. She writes:
"Perhaps this story will plant the seed of peace in the hearts of those who read it. And perhaps peace will grow there, much like it did long ago, in Mr. Hiroshi's garden."Her hope is well-founded; Flags is exactly the kind of picture book which will be treasured by teachers, librarians, and parents eager to plant those seeds in the hearts of today's children.
Valerie Nielsen is a retired teacher-librarian living in Winnipeg, MB.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association.
Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice
is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without
Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.