CM . . .
. Volume IX Number 12. . . . February 14, 2003
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.
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.
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.
A retired teacher-librarian, Valerie Nielsen lives in Winnipeg, MB.
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