Quote of the Month

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

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Dropping Leaves

Mother Nature insists it happen.  We see it in the caterpillar and the butterfly, the tadpole and the frog, the acorn and the oak, the cracked blue eggs, the beaks peeping from a nest top and the fledglings learning to fly.  It's evident in the speckled fur of a fawn and the many-pointed antlers on a mighty buck.  It's showcased in sunrises and sunsets.  Life is in constant motion; even when it's still, change is happening.

Humans can't wait to grow up wishing to be adults; then wanting to slow growing old.  Sometimes we reluctantly acknowledge the need to shift our mindset in order to be our best possible selves.  We move from one professional position to another to better assist others.  We relocate from one community to one nearby to surround ourselves with more positive, like-minded people.  One day we find ourselves packing all our personal belongings to leave one state and start anew in another thousands of miles from where we've spent our entire lives.  There are times, all too often though, when we refuse to budge from our comfort zone.  Little Tree (Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA), October 27, 2015) written and illustrated by Loren Long is about such a being who loves everything about his world.  Why should he be or do anything else?

Once there was a little tree
filled with little leaves...

He was not alone.  There were other little trees with loads of little leaves next to him.  These leaves protected him from the summer heat as the forest animals enjoyed the branches on Little Tree.

When fall arrived the little leaves on all the little trees traded in their green for shades of red, yellow and orange.  When the other trees dropped their leaves, Little Tree did not.  Advice was offered but not taken.  There was security in sameness.

Winter came and went.  Spring's arrival brought new growth to the other trees but Little Tree still has his now brown leaves, keeping them close.  Summer, fall, winter, and spring again arrived and left but Little Tree did not change.  Other forest animals expressed concern and offered encouragement.  Little Tree fiercely held on to his leaves.

Eventually he realized the little trees next to him were huge.  He could barely hear the forest animals enjoying their branches rather than his.  When the snow covered the forest floor once more, Little Tree gazed around him, seeing the majesty of the other trees stretched upward.  He felt a longing grow.  And he did what he had to do to satisfy that longing.

Spare text and simple sentences by Loren Long extend a hand to readers, asking us to quietly walk along with Little Tree on his journey of discovery.  We share his pleasure in being a part of a group, in the squirrels at play among his boughs and in the beauty of a morning dove's cooing.  We understand his unease and the need to maintain the protection his leaves offer.  Long reinforces the disparity between Little Tree and his fellow trees with repetition and comparison.   The dialogue of four forest animals serves to let us, along with Little Tree, know we are never alone.

A fox said, "Little Tree, it's autumn.  It's time for you to drop your leaves.  You can do it. Ready? One, two..."

Rendered in acrylic, ink and pencil the beauty of Loren Long's paintings begins on the dust jacket.  Ample white space here, and throughout the title, serves to illuminate his signature characters and the world's in which they live.  You already want to hug Little Tree but for different reasons than the definition usually implies.  On the back, to the left, Little Tree stands alone with the forest giants in the snow.  This image is circular in shape seeing Little Tree more closely as if through a telescope.

Beneath the jacket the book case reflects the color found in the raised title letters.  Embossed in a lighter shade in the lower right-hand corner is Little Tree with a squirrel gazing at him.  The opening and closing endpapers are the rich, chocolate brown of Little Tree's dried leaves.  The initial title page focuses on a small tree with a squirrel nearby.  The formal title and dedication pages' image extends across two pages, forest grass, a scampering squirrel and a cardinal in flight.

In perfect pacing with the text, the pictures appear on single pages or on double pages.  Carefully placed fine lines indicate motion.  Although Little Tree remains in the same place in each visual, as do the first three companion trees, new trees appear as the years pass giving us a sense of reality.  Life moves forward even as Little Tree does not.

One of my favorite illustrations is when Little Tree decides to

hugged his leaves tight.

It's the same image embossed on the book case.  Regardless of the advice from the squirrel, it's a huge decision for Little Tree.  It is a visible sign of his reluctance and willingness to grow.  It's a place all of us visit in our lives, again and again.

Little Tree written and illustrated by Loren Long is, as he has stated, a deeply personal story.  It's a gentle look at being courageous enough to change.  It speaks to every reader, young and old.  It's a classic gem.

To learn more about Loren Long and his other work please follow the first link attached to his name to access his website.  The second link takes you to a page dedicated to Little Tree.  You will want to stop by the Nerdy Book Club to read Little Tree and Me by Loren Long.  Loren Long was a guest on teacher librarian Matthew C. Winner's Let's Get Busy, Episode 185 podcast.  Teacher librarian Jennifer Reed offers up how she and her students read and used Little Tree in a blog post, ReedALOUD:  Little Tree.   Loren Long is a guest at November Picture Book Month A Celebration!, Why Picture Book Are Important.  Scholastic's Ambassador for School Libraries John Schumacher talks with and about Loren Long in two separate blog posts a couple of years ago, here and here.  Enjoy the video.

There are Little Trees everywhere.  I have one in my backyard.  I guess the snow storm today changed his mind.

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