In a movie about a legendary hero and his band of merry men, when under enemy attack one of the patriotic thieves shouts, To the trees! The trees were a refuge for them and a more strategic vantage point from which to defend themselves. Around the world for centuries, trees equal life for what they supply humans and an array of plants and animals. I wonder how often throughout time those same three words were uttered by other humans or in the language of birds taking a sudden turn in flight to roost in treetops or of squirrels racing over grass and scampering up tree trunks?
Small or tall, the size is of no importance. Standing next to a tree offers, for those open to embracing it, a true sense of solitude and strength. For most of us, they've always been there and hopefully, they always will be. Two recent publications highlight this almost immortal quality of trees. In Maple & Rosemary (Neal Porter Books, Holiday House, February 28, 2023) written by Alison James with illustrations by Jennifer K. Mann readers are witness to a remarkable friendship. In the best, truest friendships, you are never apart, but entwined forever.
Once there was a tree who was very lonely.
She was a sugar maple, so she was sweet and lovely.
The evergreens around the sugar maple didn't talk to her because she was different. One day, something out of the ordinary happened. This something climbed into her branches, echoing the maple's feelings of loneliness. The tree spoke, wanting to know who this was and if they would be her friend. Maple the tree met Rosemary the girl.
As the days passed, Rosemary visited her every day after school. They taught each other what they knew about their worlds. As Maple's seeds spun down from her branches, Rosemary planted them. When Rosemary left, they exchanged the same words.
One day Rosemary didn't come. Many seasons passed and Maple was lonely in her absence. Tiny maples sprouted around Maple, but the familiar creatures walked and flew by her without speaking.
Then, in the autumn one year, a young woman came to Maple. It was Rosemary. She was a teacher now at the nearby school. First, she hung a swing from Maple's branches. When Rosemary returned, she brought a group of happy children. She showed them all the wonders around the tree and they laughed and swung on the swing.
Maple grew bigger and taller. Rosemary grew older and shorter. She still visited Maple but now she came alone with her book, reading aloud to the tree. During one of the last times, we see Rosemary visit Maple, she tells Maple something. At first Maple is puzzled, then she realizes the meaning of those words and the power of friendship.
Author Alison James builds her story on what we know of trees, their endurance and their necessity in the continuance of this planet. She establishes a parallel between a tree and a human, both experiencing their own forms of aloneness. Using a careful blend of narrative and dialogue, we see a lasting friendship evolve. The repetition of similar phrases each time they part, strengthens their bond. What also strengthens their bond is the passage of seasons and the tree's growth. Regardless of their time apart, as it is chronicled, their affection is as strong as ever. Here is a passage.
Maple felt the tug on her branch when Rosemary swung back
and forth. Rosemary laughed and laughed. Maple's leaves
fluttered with delight.
"You will always have friends when you have a swing,"
"But it is a good friend who makes me a swing," said Maple.
with pencil, monotype printmaking, collage, and digital paint,
all combined in Photoshop
the heartwarming, eloquent artwork for this title by Jennifer K. Mann radiates those qualities when we first see them on the open and matching dust jacket and book case. In full color we see Rosemary reading aloud to Maple on the front, right side. Here the title text is varnished in a cheery red.
The trunk and tree branches continue flawlessly over the spine and to the left, on the back. The seasons have changed from spring to winter. Rosemary is now an elder, leaning on the trunk of Maple, her white hair in a bun. She is holding a stick Maple dropped from her branches. It helps her walk. Readers will see a red fox watching in the meadow as an owl takes flight.
The opening and closing endpapers are autumn orange. On the initial title page, rows of evergreens stretch across the top. The field is filled with snow. Maple stands in the foreground. Between her branches, the fox walks through the snow to the right. On the formal title page, we are brought close to the fox amid the snow and dried out Queen Anne's Lace stems. In the distance the owl flies through a wintery sky hanging over a nearby pond.
These visuals span two pages, full pages, square-like shapes in groups of four, six, and sixteen on a page and two and three vertical pictures on a page. The sizes of these illustrations and their varying perspectives enhance the text and the pacing. They fashion an inescapable emotional mood within the passage of a lifetime. They capture the beauty of each season. The fine details in each scene are not fragile but as strong as this relationship. Readers will be looking in each setting for the fox, owl, and robin.
One of my many favorite illustrations is a double-page picture. It is winter. Rosemary and her students are under the bare branches of Maple, looking up. They are waving goodbye to her. Maple's trunk is on the left and the branches, dark gray and snowy, spread to and along the top, left and right sides, and to the bottom of the left side.
One of the things we need to remember as humans is to maintain a connection to the living things outside our homes, especially trees. Maple & Rosemary written by Alison James with artwork by Jennifer K. Mann is a wonderful observation on the natural world and how to establish respect and affection for it. This story defines friendship in a way you will remember long after the covers of this book are closed. I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.
To learn more about Alison James and Jennifer K. Mann and their other work, please visit their websites by following the link attached to their names. Alison James has artwork for you to view from this title on her website. Alison James has accounts on Facebook and Instagram. Jennifer K. Mann has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. You can view the title pages at Penguin Random House.
In his newest, expansive wordless endeavor, author illustrator Aaron Becker presents possibilities. He asks us to examine our beliefs on the relationship between the natural world and humans' place in it. In this gorgeous, highly detailed presentation of the passage of time, The Tree and the River (Candlewick Press, March 14, 2023), we take a journey unlike any other.
In the beginning, there is the river, winding through tree and shrub studded meadows. Our attention is drawn to one particular tree, situated on land as the river wraps around it. With a page turn, our view of that area widens. A large farm is being constructed of wood on the shore opposite the tree. We can see the river wind behind this farm and curve to a large ridge of mountains.
We are next brought in closer as the agricultural buildings are expanding and growing in size. A mill has harnessed the water of the river for its use. There are more people, adults and children.
Two distinct societies seem to be forming on either side of the river. On the original side the structures are sturdier and more industrial. Across the river, this community seems to adhere to the more natural materials and farming. As pages are turned, there are more and more people, and the modes of transportation are changing. The buildings are crowding out the land. Walls are built. The two societies are preparing for war.
When we next turn the page, an entire new civilization is before us, perhaps a blend of the two previous peoples and their societies. The river has been redirected. Then, we see airships and motor vehicles. Animals are no longer used for transportation. Lights shine from windows at night. (The landscape scenes are becoming more like steampunk.) Then, there appear motor vehicles more like automobiles on streets with tree-lined avenues and more individual homes.
With each page turn now, there are drastic differences. We go from a space-like scenario to one of flooding and devastation with people only moving about in boats. The tree is a skeleton of its former self. Soon, there is no sign of human life. It is now that Aaron Becker shifts our view of his narrative. He takes us very close to the tree. Something remarkable is occurring.
in pencil, gouache, and digital paint
the luminescent, intricate artwork begins on the open dust jacket and open book case. On the first, we see a pastoral setting with the tree and the river. Take note though of the reflections in the water. They foreshadow a possible future. The title text is varnished on the jacket. To the left of the spine on a deep cornflower blue canvas is just the tree. Beneath its branches, a single musician sits and strums an instrument.
On the book case, the image is the same on the left side, the back. The background is now a deep purple. This corresponds to what we see on the right side, the front. It is a close up of the tree and the river with a highly advanced society in the background. The color palette is in shades of purple with glowing lights in the buildings. This is set against a red, orange, and yellow sky. An airship floats above a bridge. This image seems to portray yet another possibility.
The opening and closing endpapers are in two shades of purple. They show a bird's eye view of the river winding through the natural, untouched landscape, like the rendering of a landscape architect. For the title page, the tree and river are depicted on a single page, close to readers. With the next page turn, we begin. Tucked in the lower, left-hand corner is the publication information. There is also something tucked into the scenery on the far-left side. What is Aaron Becker trying to tell us?
Readers need to pause at each page turn to study the landscape, the architecture, and the people. How are they changing their natural surroundings? What advances in their lives have they made? Are these beneficial to the land? Watch how the air becomes different. How does the color palette shift with the altering landscape?
One of my many favorite illustrations of these double-page pictures is the one between the steampunk setting and the too bright, too busy nearly space-like community. For this image Aaron Becker uses hues of purple and rust and pink. Behind the river is a collection of buildings featuring advanced but not too industrial buildings. There are aqueducts and bridges over bends in the river, which is flowing freely, now. Vehicles similar to cars move on those aqueducts and bridges. A boat floats down the river. There are bicycle riders and a person walking their dog. Neighbors chat in front of single-family homes. There is an effort to landscape with trees and shrubs. In the rosy-skied distance, a plane is either landing or taking off.
This book, The Tree and the River written and illustrated by Aaron Becker, is a marvelous glimpse into the past, present, and future. It is filled with opportunities for us to question what we believe and to discuss this with others. Every time I read it; I find something new. This title will be read over and over. You will want at least one copy on your personal bookshelves and multiple copies in your professional collections.
To discover more about Aaron Becker and his other work, please access his website by following the link attached to his name. On his website is the book trailer and a process video. Aaron Becker has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Vimeo, and Twitter. Aaron Becker has written a guest post at the Nerdy Book Club reflecting on visual learners. You can view an interior image at the publisher's website. At Penguin Random House, you can view the title page and the first few page turns. At The Children's Book Review, The Growing Readers Podcast, you can listen to Aaron Becker chat about this book.
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