Jan 21, 2016

More Compare and Contrast: Finding THE PERFECT TREE

Note: This title was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for a free and fair review. 

Here's another 2016 release from Running Press Kids. It's a terrific choice on its own, and also offers opportunities to compare and contrast. (Check an earlier post with more COMPARE and CONTRAST suggestions HERE.)

THE PERFECT TREE, written and illustrated by Chloe Bonfield, is a luminous creation. Using a combination of two- and three-dimensional papercut images, collage, silhouettes, and drawn figures on layered, glowing backdrops, the double-page spreads  reveal themselves like scenes in a multi-act drama. Aptly named young lumberjack Jack launches the story with a search for the perfect tree, but not one to draw or climb or hug. 
The ironic use of paper cuts, newsprint collages, and other wood-by-products in the visual story opens a world of potential discussion to the question, "Why would he cut it down?" 
A progression of animals, including birds, squirrels, and a spider, combine with ethereal effects to generate a dream-like quality to the story. As if waking from a dream, Jack's encounters open his eyes to more nature-driven values and he does, in fact, begin to recognize the forest AND the trees for purposes other than his original plans.
Harcourt Brace, 1990

The publisher invites readers to compare this to THE GIVING TREE and THE LORAX, but other titles came to mind when I read this. I was instantly reminded of  the talented author/illustrator/environmentalist Lynne Cherry's THE GREAT KAPOK TREE: A TALE OF THE AMAZON RAIN FOREST, originally published in 1990. When a woodcutter is assigned to chop down the giant kapok tree tree he is visited during a siesta by the creatures who make the tree their home. Speaking persuasively and entertainingly in voices that echo their rainforest sounds, they, too, persuade the tree-harvester to see greater benefits in letting the tree live on. In both books the creatures "reveal" their connectedness to the trees rather than emphasizing debate or argument. Their simple truths, once exposed, are convincing enough on their merits. 
Tuttle Publishing, 2015
A more recent picture book that also came to mind is one narrated by the tree itself. Author Sandra Moore and illustrator Kazumi Wilds share the story of THE PEACE TREE from HIROSHIMA: The Little Bonsai with a BIG Story. Inspired by fifty bonsai trees that were presented to the United States by Japan in recognition of our bicentennial in 1976, the author imagined one tree sharing its life story. It's a story  stretching back to its earliest life in a Japanese mountain forest at the time when the Pilgrims were colonizing Plymouth. 
The life  of a bonsai begins with someone's search for a perfect little seedling, one that reveals the potential  strength, shape, and promise of centuries of survival in dwarf form.
In its miniaturized life each bonsai tree loses its function as a habitat but gains a family spanning generations, each in turn devoted to making the tree as perfect and healthy as possible.

In these three titles the art is produced through different media, in very different styles, and for intentionally different effects to suit  the stories being told. In all three books the voices are equally distinct but powerful, channeling the life-forces of nature and bridging the gap between modern demands and planet-old truths.

One thought that stayed with me through all three books relates less to searching for perfection and more to opening our minds  and hearts to HEAR other voices, to SEE other interests and needs. Tuttle Publishing has a stated mission to bridge gaps between Eastern and Western cultures, to change minds one page at a time. Our sharing of books like these is an essential step in that process.
Take part by adding other related title suggestions in the comments, or any other comments about these titles.


  1. Thanks for reminding us of The Great Kapok Tree - I've lived in several of the lands of kapoks and they are awesome, especially the variation we have here in Hong Kong with blossoms as big as your head.

  2. Christa,
    trees (or any kind) are wonders, but kapoks are phenomenal. It's fun to celebrate writers who celebrate their wonder! Thanks for stopping by.