Kaye Baillie (text) and Luisa Gioffre-Suzuki (illustrator), Mizuto and the Wind, Midnight Sun Publishing, June 2023, 32pp., RRP $29.99 (hbk), ISBN 9781922858023
One day after school, Mizuto overheard people chatting about Kaze no Denwa – a phone connected to the wind – a way to talk to missing loved ones. He wondered. Could this wind phone help him find his father?
Mizuto and the Wind is an inspirational and touching picture book based on the true story of a telephone box in a Japanese garden where people go to speak to lost loved ones. Although the ‘Kaze no Denwa’ – Wind Phone – is disconnected, the owner Itaru Sasaki created a place to grieve loss and to connect with missing loved ones using only the wind and his words. After the Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami in 2011, Mr Sasaki opened his garden and the mysterious telephone box to the public so others could benefit from his imaginative place of hope.
Kaye Baillie’s gentle words tell the fictional story of schoolboy Mizuto who feels trapped behind an invisible wall as he grieves for his father. He left for work and never returned home after the ocean swallowed the land. Thoughts of losing his father fill his head and his world. After hearing about the phone connected to the wind, Mizuto goes in search of it and the possibility of finding his father. The action of speaking to the wind with the hope that his father might be listening somewhere helps Mizuto and his mother move forward and share happy memories of the man they love but lost. The metaphors for personal loss are sensitively written connecting grief to the wild waves and then the calm seas of the ocean that took Mizuto’s father.
The illustrator Luisa Gioffre-Suzuki, an Australian artist who lived in Japan for over 10 years, captures the setting and seasons of Japan beautifully using a blend of watercolour, pencil and pastels. The artwork is soft and sensitive reflecting Mizuto’s array of emotions. His feelings of loss and anger represented by cross hatched colour, wild like the raging sea on some pages. The black, white and grey pages reflect sad moments, bright colours reflecting hope, while Japanese maple leaves change colour over several pages reflecting the passing of time.
This story resonated with me so much that I wrote a letter to my own mother who passed away during Covid-19 lockdowns, preventing me from saying goodbye to her. Grief books that provide sensitive strategies such as those featured in this story are a treasure.
Mizuto and the Wind is a sensitive and compassionate book that can give hope and comfort to children, and adults, grieving the loss of a loved one or pet. Suitable for ages 5+ years, this would make a wonderful addition to any home or school library.
Reviewed by Stef Gemmill