Thursday, December 8, 2011

3. The Littlest Evergreen

Written & illustrated by Henry Cole
$18.99, ages 4-7, 32 pages

A young tree digs his roots into forest soil, never imagining that he'd ever grow anywhere else, in this beautiful, tender story about a little Christmas tree.

The tree, an evergreen with fine, stubby needles, is the littlest one in the forest, at first no taller than a sparrow. Every day, he pushes his way further up through the grass to find the sun.

Though all the other trees on the hillside are much taller, the Littlest Evergreen doesn't mind because he's happy just where he is and he feels a part of something grand.

Every spring, the Littlest Evergreen inches a little more skyward, stretching the tip of his crown to try to catch up to other trees. And each day into summer, he soaks in the smells and sounds around him.

He marvels at the heat pulling the scent out of his needles and the crackle of lightning in the air. He delights in the downpour that follows, the feeling of rain washing away dust from his bows.

And when fall comes and his sap slows, he sleeps, with his roots tucked under a blanket of snow until titmice and chickadees herald spring once more.

Living there, in a carpet of trees, is serene -- and for a time, safe. But then one day, a terrible sound rips through the air and his companions begin to fall to the ground around him.

The little tree's needles stand straight up, as an electric saw slices this way and that "like the wings of a swallow cut through air." Tree after tree slumps over "with a soft whoosh of needles," and workers haul them into a truck.

The Littlest Evergreen wonders if he'll be cut down too, never to know what it's like to be big. But then something incredible happens.

The cutters dig him up instead. They wrap burlap around his roots, then send him to a Christmas tree lot to be used for decorating, then replanted after the holiday.

Perhaps being small is something grand indeed.

In this sweet story, an evergreen tree reflects back on his life and the caring hands that gave him second chances.

From his first days until the cold fall day when the cutters arrived, the Littlest Evergreen had only rooted in one spot.

Now he begins a journey that will change his life forever: to a tree lot and into a warm house and back into the earth to grow once more.

Author-illustrator Henry Cole does a magical job of humanizing the tree and imagining how it would perceive the human world. Everything the tree describes is related to natural things he knows:

When people come to the Christmas tree lot to select a tree, they're "hovering like bees around a hive."

Later when the tree's branches are weighted with ornaments, he watches children open presents under his bows, "clawing at the boxes, looking like baby squirrels as they race around."

A poetic gem, The Littlest Evergreen inspires a love of the natural world and a desire to nurture life.

When no longer needed as a Christmas tree, a family carries the evergreen back outside and lowers him once more into the cool, dark earth, and readers rejoice.

"It felt soft and sweet, and I grabbed hold, never wanting to leave," the tree remembers.

Cole is also the illustrator of the beloved books, A Nest for Celeste and Jack's Garden.

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