Rachel Wada wins 2020 Elizabeth Mrazik-Cleaver Canadian Picture Book Award for The Phone Booth in Mr. Hirota’s Garden


IBBY Canada (International Board on Books for Young People, Canadian section) is pleased to announce that Rachel Wada has won the 2020 Elizabeth Mrazik-Cleaver Picture Book Award for The Phone Booth in Mr. Hirota’s Garden, written by Heather Smith, published by Orca. The winner receives $1,000. The jury also selected two honour books from the list of ten finalists: King Mouse, illustrated by Dena Seiferling and written by Cary Fagan; and Small in the City, written and illustrated by Sydney Smith.

Rachel Wada is a freelance illustrator whose 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.

In selecting The Phone Booth in Mr. Hirota’s Garden as the winner, the jury commented:

Wada beautifully illustrates the power and horror of a tsunami, the grieving process and the power of love and memory to aid in the healing process. Rachel Wada has beautifully illustrated a story of devastation, resilience and hope using several techniques inspired by Japanese printmaking. She uses heavy strokes of black ink to depict the raging sea and its big twirling destructive waves. Pages are well paced with calm horizontal vistas, quiet interior shots, dramatic seascapes followed by delicate blooming cherry blossoms and soft reeds reminiscent of painted Japanese fans.

About the two honour books, the jury said:

King Mouse, illustrated by Dena Seiferling and written by Cary Fagan (Tundra Books)

Monochromatic illustrations with hints of pale pastel really bring the story to life and their whimsy and gentleness add to the story. The wordless double page spread of the crowns spilling from the wagon and the final page with the crowns left on the table add another dimension to the story. An exquisite book that looks like being discovered in an antiquarian bookshop with its sepia coloured fine drawings of talking animals and an embossed golden ex libris. A charming tale of treasure hunting and make believe orchestrated by its hidden narrator.

Small in the City, written and illustrated by Sydney Smith (Groundwood Books)

Captures perfectly what it is to be small (and brave) in a big, scary, noisy city but also the beauty of a snowy day. This book is about the quest of a little boy searching for his cat. Each image in this original storyboard format is telling a story while creating a subtle mood with huge distorted buildings, dark alleys, snow blurring the view, bare trees, or people walking by. The boy looks so small but he is resolute and a few paws in the snow will please young readers.

IBBY Canada’s Elizabeth Mrazik-Cleaver Picture Book Award, established in 1985, honours one of Canada’s pre-eminent book illustrators. Elizabeth Mrazik-Cleaver left funds in her will to annually recognize outstanding artistic talent in Canadian picture books; the winner receives $1,000.

IBBY, the International Board on Books for Young People (www.ibby.org), was founded in 1953. It is a network of organizations in 79 countries committed to bringing books and children together. IBBY Canada, started in 1980 (www.ibby-canada.org), is a volunteer organization promoting quality Canadian children’s literature nationally and internationally.

For more information, please contact:

Allison MacLachlan
Promotions Officer, IBBY Canada