Children’s books serve a range of purposes: entertainment, education, literacy and bonding time with carers, to name just a few. Many of my own children’s favourites are brightly coloured with repetitive language, in the Dr Seuss tradition. As Miss 5 becomes a more independent reader, she is seeking a narrative and is aware of some of the symbolism and subplots contained in the more complex texts. Tree, written by Danny Parker and illustrated by Matt Ottley, is one of those complex picture books that rewards a couple of readings, and might also be best read with a parent or carer who can unpack its messages.
Tree is subtitled ‘A little story about big things’ and is a tale of endings, new beginnings and the growth and change experienced in between. The tree of the book’s title begins life as a sapling, embedded at the foot of a much larger tree. As time goes by, the tree experiences cycles of weather and human impact; from sun to storms to bulldozers. It grows up protected by the shade of the larger tree – but that protection won’t last forever. The tree and its surrounds are also a favourite spot for a local family, who play and relax in the park, interacting with the tree as they experience their own endings and beginnings.
The language in Tree is simple, with minimal text (appropriate for early readers). Ottley’s illustrations are rich and moving, evoking the light and shade of the human experience as much as of the natural world.
Tree is a poignant story – melancholy, but ultimately optimistic – that may provide a launching pad for discussion of the ‘big things’ in life, like birth, death, nature and conservation.
Tree is published by Hardie Grant Egmont in the Little Hare books imprint, and I thank them kindly for my copy.