CM . . .
. Volume XVII Number 5. . . .October 1, 2010
Victoria, BC: Tudor House Press (Distributed by Orca), 2010.
32 pp., hardcover, $19.95.
Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.
Review by Aileen Wortley.
The tree had lived for countless seasons, endless days and nights. It had watched over the forest as winter storms turned to gentle spring rains. It had held the night sky bright with stars high within its branches, then had turned to silver as the moon moved across the heavens, spilling light down onto the earth below.
The Sitka spruce had become part of the landscape, connecting the Earth to the heavens and one generation to the next. So old and strong, this tree seemed part of time itself.
In ancient times, the Pacific Northwest was covered in forest that followed the same uninterrupted cycles through day and night, summer and winter, life and death. Readers follow the development of a tiny Sitka seedling over centuries as it becomes a mighty, 300 foot tree and plays its part in nature's community. First Nations People respected and cherished this environment, relying on it for every need, but when Europeans arrive, it is threatened as land is cleared, cities built and industries created, which dramatically impact the climate. In one resulting storm, the Sitka, unable to withstand its violence, crashes to the ground, its glory seemingly lost forever. Enter an instrument maker, who, using the Sitka's wood, skillfully creates a melodious cello. He returns to the forest to play it as homage to the magnificent tree. The Sitka lives on.
This summary in no way does justice to the significance of the message, the authenticity of the research, the beauty of the poetic prose and the general artistry of the illustrations. Helen Stewart is an author and award-winning illustrator from BC. Muted pictures in delicate hazed pastel tones capture the subtle changes and life of the forest. Each page is meticulously worked with a combination of watercolor pencil, oil pastel, collage and added textural techniques. The attractive proportions, layout and quality of paper all result in an aesthetically satisfying book.
The text speaks directly but emotionally, in beautiful prose, of a reverence for the enduring quality of nature. Readers are reminded of man's connection to earth, and their responsibility in preserving it in the face of disappearing land and associated wildlife. While cause and effect of the demise of the Sitka is rather simplistically explained, at this level it does not detract from the intrinsic theme. An addendum provides useful explanatory information on topics that arise from the story.
TreeSong is designated for children aged 4-8. In my experience, children of this age would not find the theme within their realm of understanding. Nor would they comprehend the complex narrative and subtlety of the artwork. The book will find its audience in Grade 4 even up to and including the early teens. In school and class libraries, it would be excellent as part of art and environmental programs. In public libraries, care would need to be exercised in classifying this beautiful esoteric picture book for older readers to ensure that it would find its audience.
Aileen Wortley is a retired librarian who lives in Toronto, ON.
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