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THE FAMILY TREE by David McPhail


by David McPhail & illustrated by David McPhail

Pub Date: March 27th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-8050-9057-4
Publisher: Henry Holt

The love of an ancient tree leads a boy to unlikely activism.

When the pioneers cleared the land to settle the western wilderness, one young man decided to leave one special tree standing to shade his new home. The years go by, and the land is further developed, but the tree remains, until a proposed highway threatens it. The great-grandson of the original settler calls on animals to help save the tree. Young environmentalists will cheer when the tree is saved, and they will enjoy the family story. McPhail’s familiar watercolor-and-ink spreads capture the bucolic setting, especially effective when showing the wide swath of cleared land while the oxen are helping to build the house. Right from the start, though, the tone of the book is muddled by confusing and redundant graphic elements. Speech bubbles seem oddly out of place in the 1800s, especially when the main character is speaking to no one and the narration is clear and complete. The final illustration shows the boy, triumphantly swinging from his beloved tree—but the proximity of the new highway and the vehicular traffic makes this victory seem hollow at best. The graveyard at the right edge seems to indicate the fight against progress may be futile. Classes studying ecology and activism might find something to discuss here.

Good intentions; confusing execution.

(Picture book. 5-8)