Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Thursday, October 11, 2012

For A Tree, A Gift

You can never underestimate the value of trees.  There's no better place to rest and see the world than high among the whispering leaves. Leaves which having turned vibrant colors are now coating the ground below, providing shelter and warmth for smaller creatures.  Whole worlds live beneath the bark of trees.

From trees we've built our homes, vehicles for transportation, and created works of art upon their paper.  With every breath we take, we owe them thanks.  A Jewish holiday, Tu B'Shevat, celebrated on the fifteenth of the Jewish calendar month, Shevat, is known as the New Year for Trees.

At this time of year, January or February on the Gregorian calendar, it is spring in Israel, trees are beginning to blossom.  Happy Birthday, Tree!:  A Tu B'Shevat Story (Albert Whitman & Company, August 2012) written by Madelyn Rosenberg with illustrations by Jana Christy pays homage to this celebration through the mind and deeds of a girl.  Her young heart is wise for her years.

Joni climbed the tree that grew tall and quiet in her front yard.  

Even though it's the tree's birthday, Joni is convinced the tree is not happy.  How could it even know about this special day?  After singing Happy Birthday in Hebrew and English with no response, she has one of those "light bulb" moments.

She quickly enlists the help of her neighbor and friend Nate, in planning a party for the tree complete with gifts.  With each present, water poured from a watering can, sunshine from blowing clouds away, a rather large cupcake formed from dirt, and a treasured souvenir hung from its branches, the tree seems to be a little bit happier. The perfect gift has yet to be delivered though.

Pretending to be companion trees is a little exhausting for the two friends, so with the help of her mother and Nate, it's off to the nursery.  Step by careful step, the smaller tree finds a new home snug in the ground near the tree in Joni's front yard.  Now the party can begin for all the trees with the best gift of all---the truthfully spoken words of a child.

Madelyn Rosenberg has created a character so vibrant, full of life, you want to jump in the pages and be with her.  Her concern for the tree, for this celebration, permeates her every action.  Joni's friend, Nate, her mother and father are more than willing to offer their support; her energy is so infectious.

A lightness, a cozy warmth, flows through the narrative.  A strong sense of place and purpose is apparent in the dialogue between the characters and in everything they do. A good story is only as good as the choice of words; the way the author uses language.

Here are a couple of examples.

"What else?" asked Joni.
"Sunshine," Nate said.  "Sunshine isn't boring."
They looked up.  Clouds covered the sun.
"Blow," Joni said. Joni and Nate blew and blew until the sun peeked out.

They placed the tree in the hole and gently removed the burlap.  When they were sure the tree was comfortable, they patted the dirt back into place.

According to an interview posted here, Jana Christy works digitally to make her pictures using Axiotron Modbook and Corel Painter, Photoshop and digital collage.  There is a softness to her work pairing nicely with the text.  Splashes of red, yellow, purple, and turquoise help the characters to pop against a watercolor-like background of more natural colors.

Front and back endpapers take a single-page image from within the book, extending it to a double-page spread, suggestions written on the branches encouraging people to help care for our earth.  Christy alters the illustrations' sizes at times bleeding them to the page edge or across the gutter as a background for another.  Smaller images are more casually shaped and framed with white space.  There is notable attention to detail consistent with the book's story; the father arriving home carrying items in two recycle bags.

Readers will come away from the reading of Happy Birthday, Tree!:  A Tu B'Shevat Story written by Madelyn Rosenberg with illustrations by Jana Christy with a new understanding of this Jewish celebration as well as making choices to protect our planet.  It will be easy for them to catch the joy of Joni's views and know they, too, can make a difference.  I highly recommend this for use in the study of New Year celebrations, Arbor Day, or Earth Day.  This is one of those books where the more you know about differences, you discover similarities.

I was introduced to this book by a blog post at Jama's Alphabet Soup.  I'm thinking you might also need a pattern for making hats from newspapers which can be found here and here.  If you want to see more illustrations click on the link embedded in the title above taking you to the official publisher's page.


  1. This morning before school, my daughter was nervous because she had to ask the librarian a question. So I asked her: "What do you think a librarian's job is?" She said: "To teach kids how to love books." Which was about the greatest thing I've ever heard. Thanks so much for introducing people to my book, and of course, for what you do every day!

  2. You're welcome, Madelyn. Thanks for your comments. Being a librarian is the greatest joy of my life. I have loved bringing children and books together.

  3. I love this review!! So thoughtful, detailed, insightful -- perfectly capturing all that is wonderful about Madelyn's book. Thank you so much. :)

  4. Thank you, Jama, for your comments. I wanted people to know exactly how much I like this book. It's pure delight. Thank you for highlighting this new voice in the field of children's literature. Without Alphabet Soup I would never have known.