Sunday 10 March 2019

One Tree

One Tree by Christopher Cheng, illustrated by Bruce Whatley (Puffin Books) RRP $24.99 HB ISBN 9780143786733

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

It seems a long time since a book by Cheng has been published. Now comes his picture book which is set in China where Grandfather (probably Cheng’s) lives and works on a farm, a lifestyle he loves. Every week the old man walks with his family to the village market. But that was many years ago. Now, says the story, ‘Grandfather is old. He lives in my apartment’. Once the old man would tell stories to his family after dinner in their mountainside hut. Now ‘Grandfather is always silent’.

The narrator shops in a city market, sometimes taking Grandfather with him. But, unlike at his village market, no-one stops to talk. One day the child finds a plant growing between footpath cracks. He digs it up and plants it in a shallow bowl which he places on his balcony. The tree begins to grow and as it does Grandfather begins to talk – to the tree. Then he buys another tree for the child. And another. And more until the whole balcony is covered with trees.

The ‘forest’ on the balcony is the trigger for Grandfather to talk and for others to also start greening the city.

This story is not only uplifting but is about love and change and how important the natural environment is in our lives. Cheng tells it simply and effectively.

The coloured illustrations are a departure in technique for Whatley who is best known for his wombat books with Jackie French. In this book, each of his full-page illustrations are framed with a black border to enhance what looks like a linoprint with many intricate fine (and thicker) lines. This gives the appearance of much happening and one examines the multi-detailed illustrations which are filled with aspects of nature and of people.

This picture book should appeal to readers aged 7+ years and will surely used by teachers in promoting the idea of nature being important in our lives.

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