Before automobiles and before airplanes, trains traveled from place to place carrying people and an assortment of goods and necessities. Train stations in even the smallest communities were and are hubs and gathering places. Arrivals and departures present situations of mixed blessings.
Train whistles in the distance conjures different memories for each being. In the case of The Christmas Tree Who Loved Trains (Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, September 18, 2018) written by Annie Silvestro (Bunny's Book Club) with illustrations by Paola Zakimi the sounds of trains are an occasion for celebration. As the trains come and go, so too does supreme happiness.
A pine tree grew in the farthest corner of the tree farm. She sat alone on a small patch of land that bordered the train track.
Nothing made this tree as elated as the trains passing by her home on the tree farm. Her needles shivered in anticipation. It was too loud for birds and squirrels to rest or scamper in her branches but as long as the trains whizzed past, she was content.
One day a boy who loved trains as much as the pine tree came to pick a tree for Christmas. After a train hurtled past the child standing by the track, he noticed the lone evergreen seemed just as pleased as he was. That was the tree for him.
Helping hands came to dig up the tree and wrap her roots in burlap. The boy was thrilled but the tree could no longer hear trains or feel the wind they made wave her branches. That night in the darkness of the room in which she was placed, sadness crept into her soul.
A day of decorating eased her sadness.
The tree fell asleep to the ringing of sleigh bells.
She slept so well, she missed sounds only heard one night during the year. In the morning she was greeted with familiar noises. A train on a track circled her branches. Both boy and tree were filled with pure bliss.
Time passed quickly. Now the little pine was worried and her branches were empty. She did not know the magic of Christmas remained and so did the love of a boy.
Trains and Christmas equal wonderful surprises but author Annie Silvestro extends our thinking with the premise of a tree who loves trains as much as children (and some adults). In this story we have a blend of narrative, spoken words of the boy and thoughts of the tree. We are enchanted, connected and soothed with this technique. Readers will repeat and join in with Annie's use of onomatopoeia. Here is another passage.
He watched the track.
Then . . . ZOOM!
His hair rippled in the wind as the train roared past.
Rendered in pencil and Adobe Photoshop the images, beginning with the opened and matching dust jacket and book case, are warm and welcoming. Use of subtle color and fine lines add to the overall atmosphere of each illustration. The stick in the boy's hand is for playing with his canine companion.
The scene on the front extends over the spine and to the left (back). The track get larger shifting perspective. The cloudy sky mixes with the early morning fog, softening the wooded landscape near the track.
The color in the child's hat, somewhat deeper and darker, covers the opening and closing endpapers. Beneath the text on the initial title page stands the little pine tree. For the formal title page, a double-page picture features another angle of the boy watching the train. His dog is seated next to him. The author, illustrator and publisher names appear as part of the train track.
Illustrator Paola Zakimi alternates between full-page and double-page pictures. Her shift in point-of-view gives us a feel for the tree farm, the place of the train within this setting and the importance of Christmas, the boy, the little pine tree and their love of trains. We develop a strong emotional attachment to this story through her visual interpretation.
One of my many favorite pictures is when the boy first realizes the tree shares his love of trains. In the lower, left-hand corner of the full-page illustration is a portion of the train track. Early morning mist swirls around the track and portions of the tree farm. Slightly off to the right of center is the little pine tree. Next to her is the boy, his dog and his dad. All of them feel the swoosh of the train as it passes. At the top of the image rows of trees continue off the page. There is a sense of supreme joy in this visual.
You can nearly hear the clickety-clack of wheels on a track, the whistle announcing the train's arrival and the zoom as it passes you through the marvelous blend of words and pictures in The Christmas Tree Who Loved Trains written by Annie Silvestro with illustrations by Paola Zakimi. Readers and listeners will take pleasure in participating in the sounds of the train. You will definitely get requests for multiple readings. For those who have given and received trains as Christmas gifts this book is a treasure. This title is recommended for your professional and personal book collections.
To discover more about Annie Silvestro and Paola Zakimi and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites. Annie was a guest writer during Storystorm 2018 at Tara Lazar's Writing for Kids (While Raising Them). Both Annie and Paola have accounts on Twitter. You can also find Annie and Paola on Instagram.