________________ CM . . . . Volume IX Number 12. . . . February 14, 2003

cover Solomon's Tree.

Andrea Spalding. Illustrated by Janet Wilson. Mask and Tsimpshian designs by Victor Reece.
Victoria, BC: Orca Books, 2002.
32 pp., cloth, $19.95.
ISBN 1-55143-217-X.

Subject Heading:
Tsimpshian masks-Juvenile literature.

Grades 1-4 / Ages 6-9.

Review by Valerie Nielsen.

**** /4

If a perfect author/illustrator team exists, then Andrea Spalding and Janet Wilson must be its embodiment. Solomon's Tree, their latest collaborative picture book, is all about a little boy, Solomon, who has a relationship with a very special tree, a big old maple.


This was the tree that shared secrets with Solomon. Every day Solomon climbed its knobby trunk and curled up in his favorite notch.

"Hello, tree," he whispered and stroked the rough bark.

"Hello, Solomon," the tree rustled back. Its branches cradled his body."

In spring, the tree shows him a hummingbird nest, in summer the maple shows him a chrysalis turning into a butterfly, and in fall the tree showers Solomon with golden leaves and winged seeds. Then a ferocious mid-winter storm comes, and the tree is toppled by the wind. Solomon is devastated. "My tree. She was my friend. Now she's gone and I never said goodbye."

Solomon's uncle knows what will help Solomon deal with his feelings.

"Would you like to see the spirit of your special tree?" Uncle asked.

Solomon nodded.

"Tomorrow we'll start a mask together."

     As Uncle works on the mask, he and his nephew talk about the tree — what it showed Solomon, what it smelled like, what it sounded like. In rich detail, Spalding describes each step of the mask-making process, moving from the initial carving, through the hollowing of the nose and cheeks, the sanding, the final painting, and ending finally with the oiling, done by Solomon. When the mask is finished, Solomon puts it on and dances in the spring sunshine. Beneath his feet, a dormant maple seed wakes in the warm ground and begins its push upward. In such a way, Solomon learns that, as the cycle of life continues, so does his friendship with the tree. 

internal art

     According to the jacket notes, Andrea Spalding was inspired to write Solomon's Tree after she had participated in a mask-carving workshop given by Tsimpshian master-carver Victor Reece. In fact, Reese used traditional tools to carve a special mask for the story out of alder wood, with features typical of the Tsimpshian tradition. He also provided Janet Wilson with designs for the strip panels depicting Raven, trickster of Tsimpshian stories, which she has placed beneath the text on each page. Authenticity of detail is a hallmark of Wilson's paintings, and it is no doubt due in large measure to her habit of meticulously researching each book she illustrates. With a simple prose style, Spalding evokes the cultural and emotional life of her characters, while at the same time she uses her descriptive powers to bring the west coast setting of her story to life.

     In Solomon's Tree, Spalding and Wilson have created a memorable cultural gift to pass on to the younger generation. Elementary school librarians will not want to miss the opportunity to add this picture book to their collection.

Highly Recommended.

A retired teacher-librarian, Valerie Nielsen lives in Winnipeg, MB.


To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364