Origins of Tokyo Digs a Garden—Guest Post by J.E. Lappano

I first had the idea for Tokyo about a decade ago.

Throughout most of my 20s, I worked as a landscaper in Toronto, spending the spring, summer and fall in the tiny backyards, alleyways and rooftops of the city. The designer I worked for used native plants in his designs and hand tools whenever physically possible, taking a gentle approach and respect for the ecosystems we’d be cultivating. When I wasn’t complaining about back pain or the heat or the rain or the wind or the cold, I loved this work because it provided the space and time for daydreaming.

Lappano1 One of the urban gardens Lappano helped install & maintain while daydreaming about Tokyo Digs a Garden (Credit: Todd Smith Design)

Before long, the idea for Tokyo appeared: nature transforming a city overnight. Through some magic, the boundless imagination and creative destruction of childhood, Tokyo and Kevin let the wild loose across the city.

I’m intrigued by the idea that “the wild” is not something we have to leave our own backyards to see; even in the parking lots of high-rises, nature it’s there waiting for us to discover. It doesn’t take much coaxing to show itself. Lift a brick, or look in the cracks of pavement and there it is, in its cool, muddy potential.

I sat with the idea for about ten years before I decided to finally write something down.


A view of Lappano’s workspace with intern pictured (bottom left)

And I didn’t do it alone. Our daughter Maia (my trusty four-year-old editor in residence) helped with the early drafts. I’d read the story aloud to her, and it became painfully clear when something worked or when something didn’t. (Kevin the cat and his quest for ice-cream earned a more prominent role because of her notes!) Amelia, our youngest, also loves Kevin, but is more captivated by Kellen Hatanaka’s detailed and vibrant illustrations, and wants to know more about each and every thing on the page.


Amelia & Maia – celebrated book critics & self-proclaimed wildlings

Since becoming a parent, stories, like the natural world, are joys to discover. My wife Stephanie is a library enthusiast; she comes home weekly with bags and bags of picture books that the four of us happily devour. I’m thrilled at the opportunity to add Tokyo Digs a Garden to the vast literary territory that’s out there for children, parents, and all book lovers to explore. With any luck, it can help to transport us into a space where nature thrives and endures in the wildness of our imaginations.


Lappano poses with a woodland gnome in Guelph, Ontario. Nature is full of surprises!

Groundwood Logos SpineTokyo 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?

With Tokyo Digs a Garden, Jon-Erik Lappano and Kellen Hatanaka have created a thoughtful and inspiring fable of environmentalism and imagination.

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