Title: The Tree
Author: Neal Layton
Illustrator: Neal Layton
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Audience: 2-5 years
Summary: In only sixty words, Neal Layton tells the story of a small ecosystem: a tall tree, the animals which live happily on, in, and under it, and the two humans who change it irrevocably.
Literary elements at work in the story: Author/illustrator Layton tells this story in a series of sentence fragments – more like captions to his illustrations than a traditional story line. The narrative, then, becomes the work of the reader, who can fill in the gaps of plot and character development by studying Layton’s charming drawings, where the huge and expressive eyes of humans and animals alike tell of determination, surprise, shock, sadness, and, finally, relief and happiness.
How does the perspective on gender/race/culture/economics/ability make a difference to the story? The power divide in this tale falls squarely between humans and the rest of creation; the bumbling humans have it, and the tree and animals do not. Fortunately, this is a story of the wise and compassionate use of power. Soon after the human couple makes the first saw cut into the pine tree, they realize that their actions will have a devastating effect on the lives of the other creatures. They value these new neighbors and move swiftly to correct their mistake. It is worth noting that this human couple works together, equally sharing the hauling, hammering, climbing, and painting in their building project.
Theological Conversation Partners: This fable is the story of Genesis 1-2 in a microcosm. Plant and animals live together in harmony until humans show up with their plans and their obliviousness and proceed to cause a ruckus. What might disobedience look like in the created world, and what outcomes might result? In this story the effect of human error is fairly sudden and dramatic: a nest full of baby birds falls at the feet of the pair who are attempting to saw down their tree to build a new house. Owls and rabbits flee. Fortunately, these humans recognize what havoc their actions have wrought, are alarmed and saddened by the consequences, and immediately set out to rectify the situation. In Isaiah we hear, “Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.” (1:16-17) The Tree might be a good way to demonstrate the concept of repentance to children. The humans not only recognize their mistake, but they turn their plans toward making life better for all who find shelter in the tall pine, constructing “a better rabbits’ burrow, a cozier owls’ hollow, a sturdier squirrels’ nest, a patched-up birds’ nest, and … a happy home” for themselves. The reader can hope that this is what human dominion might look like in God’s kingdom.
Faith Talk Questions:
- Who makes their homes in the big pine tree?
- What do you think that the man and woman are thinking when they begin to saw down the tree?
- What do you think the man and woman are thinking when the birds’ nest falls out of the tree? How can you tell?
- What animals and plants might be affected by the things we do every day?
- Do you think that God wants us to be concerned about the plants and animals and people around us? How can we show that concern?
- The people in this story realize that they have made a mistake when they start to saw down the big pine tree. How do they correct their mistake?
- Do you remember any mistakes you have made and how you fixed them?
Thanks to Union Presbyterian Seminary alumna and Director of Christian Education at the St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Suffolk, VA for writing this week’s book review.