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THE TREE AND THE RIVER by Aaron Becker Kirkus Star


by Aaron Becker ; illustrated by Aaron Becker

Pub Date: March 14th, 2023
ISBN: 978-1-5362-2329-3
Publisher: Candlewick

A wordless memento mori considers our fleeting human existence in the span of a single tree’s life.

Having established himself as a picture-book creator unafraid of taking the long view, Becker offers an oddly comforting look at how wars, floods, and humanity itself can pass in just a blink of an eye. For most of the book, a tree standing on a single spit of land, hugged by a river, is the focus of the story. One can gauge how much time has passed not by the tree, which ages naturally over the years, but by the civilization that grows up around it, from early settlers who build along the banks to an industrial revolution, modernity, and eventual ecological collapse. Meticulous care is taken with every detail in Becker’s pencil, gouache, and digital paint illustrations, leading young readers to try to piece the story of these peoples, ancient, modern, and futuristic, over time. Yet one is ultimately left with a sense of hope. Our world may descend into chaos on occasion, but new life is always on the horizon. With its tiny people (indeed, mostly too tiny to distinguish skin color or features) and distant views of civilization, the book brings to mind some of the best of Mitsumasa Anno’s titles, if Anno had been occasionally influenced by Blade Runner. (This book was reviewed digitally.)

Look upon this work, ye mighty picture-book creators, and despair. A stunning accomplishment.

(Picture book. 4-9)