A seed sprouts between the great exposed roots of another much larger tree, and over time, grows into a sapling. Under the expansive canopy of the older tree, the little tree is protected from the elements until one fateful night when ‘the sky battered the earth’. In aftermath and the light of day, ‘Tree was dazzled. And drenched. And shaken to his roots.’ Tree’s protection has disappeared: the storm has decimated the forest and the big tree has fallen victim to the ferocity of the tempest. So from now on tree must stand alone … Until years later a seed sprouts at tree’s side and a tiny sapling begins to grow as the cycle begins again.
Inspired by the death of Parker’s father just before his son was born, Tree is the story of the cycle of life. On one level the story is achingly simple: birth, growth and death. At another level the text and illustrations work together to create a deeper subtext that delves into existence, loss, seasonal change, protection, journey, generation and the many other related themes depicted in rings of word clusters on the back cover of the book. Parker’s use of personification, highlighting the notion of tree as a character in the story, increases the accessibility of the text to the young child.
Matt Ottley’s illustrations bring yet another level of meaning to the story. His use of perspective and focalisation situates the young reader to see the world from the small tree’s vantage point – sometimes in the form of a close up of the small creatures that inhabit the tree and its mountainous exposed roots, or a wide shot looking up from the base into the expansive, protective canopy overhead. Ottley’s use of colour works with the text to foreshadow events and to add depth to the mood and tone of the book as it moves through the storyline. The symbolism of the family who visit the tree at different times in their lives and in different configurations adds poignancy to the story, as does the depiction of the graveyard at the foot of the tree towards the end of the book.
Tree is a gentle book that could work on a number of levels with a young child. The reading experience would certainly be enhanced by discussion with an adult about the story’s subtextual significances.
Little Hare 2012
(A version of this review appears in Magpies Vol 27, Issue 5, November 2012)