Written and Illustrated by Loren Long
Philomel Books, 2015
Once there was a little tree filled with little leaves…who was surrounded by other little trees who had little leaves of their own.
The plot in a nutshell: A tree copes with change.
Little Tree enjoys his leafy life, with squirrels climbing in his branches. When autumn comes, all the leaves on all the trees around him change color and start to fall, but Little Tree hugs his leaves tight and won’t drop them. Winter passes and when spring comes, all the other trees have grown taller, with new green leaves. But Little Tree is still little and his leaves are still brown. Many seasons come and go like this and the animals worry that he is sick and urge him to drop his leaves each autumn. The mourning dove who used to sing in his branches now sings too high up for him to hear. Then one winter, he finally drops all his leaves and feels the cold of winter for the first time. But then he grows taller and sprouts beautiful new green leaves and becomes part of the forest.
In a note on his website, author/illustrator Loren Long calls this book his most personal to date and explains that was inspired by the emotions he experienced while sending his son off to college. He remembered how scared his son was on the first day of school and it made him think about all the milestones in life that we fear and how we have to get past them in order to move forward. It’s a lovely message that is easy to understand, but not at all over explained. You empathize with Little Tree, but you also worry about him, because you know it’s not good for him to hold on to those leaves. It makes you examine yourself afterwards, to think about the things you may need to let go.
The artwork is done in acrylic paint, ink and pencil and gorgeously moves through the seasons of this tree’s life as though it’s being presented on stage. We always have the same view of him, starting with a small image on a white background. The background becomes more complex as the years pass and forest animals appear and move on as the seasons change. I love that they try to encourage him to let go, serving as our proxy voices, perhaps, especially when we can see that the other trees around him are growing tall while he stays stunted. The color palettes at work here are gorgeous and reflect nature at her very best. It’s visually gorgeous and very thought provoking.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that sometimes you have to be brave and let go in order to make any forward progress.