Written by Jay Williams, Illustrated by Blake Hampton
Parents’ Magazine Press, 1967
The village of Owlgate was quiet and tidy, and nothing surprising ever happened there.
Previously Reviewed Books from this Author: Seven at One Blow
A tree appears in the center of Owlgate, with silver bark, golden leaves and chocolate cookies hanging from the branches. Everyone in the village gathers around and offers their opinions on the anomaly, with the adults believing it to be a joke or worse, a bad omen, and the children believing it to be a gift from a magician, meant as a present to the town. The adults, obsessed with knowing its purpose for being there, call in the village’s wisest men to advise them what’s to be done with the unusual tree. When the Lord of Owlgate arrives, the villagers have reached a fever pitch, with some people insisting that the tree is evil and others believing it could be worth money. The Mayor calls for silence and announces that they will chop the tree down and watch it for a while, then send it to the King, but they discover that the tree is gone. While the village was arguing, the children shook down all the cookies and ate them and then the tree folded up on itself and disappeared. One of the boys licks his lips and declares that THAT was what the tree was for. And somewhere, a magician smiles.
Here’s another one of those books I had when I was a little girl. In all honesty, I was never a huge fan of it when I was very young. But as I got older, I began to see the deeper messages in this story and my opinion of it changed. Author Jay Williams seems to be serving up a number of different messages in this story, from the importance of listening to your children to the dangers of witch hunt mentality. I adore the last line about the magician, in which we see that the children were right in their positive assessment of the tree, because we also see that it doesn’t matter to the children whether or not they were right. Those of you who have heard me rail against modern society’s need to ‘be right’ surely know how much I appreciate this element of the book.
Illustrator Blake Hampton gives each character their own individual look, with clothes that are appropriate to their medieval setting and facial expressions that tell us more about who they are. He also makes it easy to identify the characters by occupation. The miller, for example, is always shown carrying a big bag of flour and the butcher is never without his cleaver. I think I would probably steer clear of the butcher, though…he looks like a majorly grumpy guy.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that miraculous things that happen are not meant to be dissected or explained or interpreted. They are meant to be appreciated and enjoyed.