When tragedy strikes our home, community, state, or country, we mark it with a memory. We cannot forget what we were doing when it happened. Some of the tragedies are profound enough the whole world remembers along with us. The events in the United States on September 11, 2001, are unforgettable.
The news, as quietly as possible, flew from classroom to classroom at our elementary school. Adult staff members tried to proceed through the day as normally as possible although our hearts were heavy. After school we gathered with our principal, many of us tears streaming down our faces. It seems impossible this was twenty years ago. Survivor Tree (Little, Brown And Company, August 31, 2021) written by Marcie Colleen with illustrations by Aaron Becker notes those events with an extraordinary story. Nature finds a way.
A TREE STOOD STEEL-STRAIGHT AND PROUD
at the foot of the towers that filled the sky.
This Callery pear tree reflected the seasons. From bare branches to blooming branches to boughs laden with green and then red, it shifted with the changing months. For three decades it grew and lived, untouched.
In September, on a brilliant blue-sky day, normalcy for this tree, its surroundings, and the humans in its city was blasted aside. Amid the destruction, the tree appeared to be a skeleton of its former self. Then, hope spoke. Those clearing the devastation found green sprouts on the branches of the tree.
In its broken, but hopeful state, the tree was placed in a new space. Through winter and spring, it stayed the same, until new life unexpectedly appeared. The tree again reflected the seasons for nearly ten years.
When the next winter came, the tree was taken to its original place. The towers, two, were gone. The tree was there, a visible, living testament to the tragedy and hopeful strength. From old scarred, bark smooth growth extended.
The text written by Marcie Colleen reads like poetry. A single sentence vividly describes the tree's presence in each season until that catastrophic September day. The cadence stops as stunned as the world was. Again single, carefully penned phrases (sometimes two) follow the tree's journey, until changes necessitate more words. We feel the rhythm of the story through the use of repetition. It brings us back to winter, spring, summer, and fall with a renewed perspective. Here is a passage.
Two stone blocks were placed in its stunted shadow---
a memorial of makeshift towers in a makeshift home.
No longer stretching tall,
the tree reached deep in the warm earth,
and all was quiet.
(Please note I am working with an F & G. My copy has not arrived yet.)
When you open the dust jacket, the choice of hues blankets you in calm. The illustration of the Survivor Tree as it stands today at the 9/11 Memorial continues across the spine and over the fold of the front flap. Notice the trunks of the other trees and the similarly colored shapes representing the aluminum and steel lattice tridents on the towers. As they move toward the sky their shades are muted.
To the left, on the back, an image of the memorial is presented. It is as if we are standing there. On the bottom we can see portions of names around a white rose. Above this is one of the two pools. The words,
EVEN IN THE DARKEST OF TIMES,
COLOR WILL ALWAYS
RETURN TO THE WORLD
are shown as our eyes move to the top. Trees in autumn rise in front of buildings and a sky with some clouds.
(If you go to the illustrator's Instagram account you can see the stunning book case as he unboxes his copies from the publisher.)
The endpapers, quotation page, dedication and title pages, pages of notes, and publication information pages are awash in colors depicting the different times of day and seasons of the year. Floating through them as if on a breeze are leaves. They, too, mirror the times of day and seasons of the year in their hues. The title page is a double-page illustration, a breathtaking view of New York City as if we are arriving by water with the Statue of Liberty on our left and the skyline spread before her. The Survivor Tree glows in front of the Twin Towers.
These images by artist Aaron Becker were rendered
in watercolor and colored pencil on 300 lb. hot press watercolor paper.
On heavier, matte-finished paper these double-page pictures convey a range of emotions. Aaron Becker enhances the beautiful narrative by pictorially supplying another story, a human story, within the tale of the tree. This story follows a family through photographs initially.
Every time you read this book; you will see more included details in Aaron Becker's visuals. He employs cutaways to show the roots of the tree. Seasons blend from one side of the page to the other. What will each reader see on the pages before the crashes? For emphasis Aaron Becker alters his perspectives. We are brought close to the hand caressing the green on the broken tree. As the tree is brought to the memorial, it is a more panoramic view with lots of sky. One wordless illustration is breathtaking.
One of my many favorite pictures is toward the closing of the book. We are close to the tree, it's trunk on the left and multiple branches extending up and out to the right-page edge. It is autumn. We can see the leaves tinged with muted red, orange, yellow, and purple. Their backs to us, a father and his daughter reach toward one of the branches. The daughter's left hand and arm rests on her father's right shoulder. Together they touch history and hope.
With every reading the richness of Survivor Tree written by Marcie Colleen with illustrations by Aaron Becker envelopes you. Viewing this tree's story through the poetic words by the author and the striking artwork, with an added pictorial interpretation, by the illustration creates a promise. It's a promise we can hold in our hands. At the close of the book is more information about the Survivor Tree and an author's and an illustrator's notes. I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.
To discover more about Marcie Colleen and Aaron Becker and their other work, please visit their respective websites by following the link attached to their names. Marcie Colleen has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Aaron Becker has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter. At the publisher's website there is a video/podcast with Aaron Becker talking about his artwork for this title and a podcast with Marcie Colleen speaking about her writing for this book. At author, reviewer, and blogger, Julie Danielson's website, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, this title is showcased. At author and teacher librarian Travis Jonker's School Library Journal, 100 Scope Notes, website is the cover reveal and a question and answer with both the author and the illustrator.
UPDATE: Please enjoy this Five questions for Marcie Colleen and Aaron Becker in The Horn Book on September 8, 2021.