After the mayor bans books, a young boy named Arlo discovers how to grow them.
“Beginnings were always the best part. They smelled as if anything were possible.” Arlo is so absorbed in the book he’s reading up in a tree that it slips from his hands and bonks the mayor on the head. “Books are dangerous!” the mayor cries, and he rips up every book in town. Arlo is sad, but he figures the mayor must be right; after all, he is the mayor. The town changes: Storytime is replaced by nap time; the theaters produce no plays, and the library is empty. Arlo weeps as he writes “The End” in the sand, but writing makes him determined to share stories. Then, from one of the ripped-up pages, the titular tree begins to sprout, and books flourish once more. (Conveniently, the mayor is easily convinced of their value.) Kheiriyeh’s dramatic oil paint–and-collage illustrations, in hues of beige, red, and bright blue, use characters and setting to drive home the message that books bring joy and their absence is all but tragic. The books that grow from the tree contain print in many languages: Korean, Arabic, Russian, Portuguese, and more. Arlo and a number of the other townspeople are brown-skinned, the mayor and others are a shade of beige, and all have blue hair.
An excuse for Czajak to share his love of books with children, this story’s optimistic view of creativity and resistance is fairly irresistible. (Picture book. 4-9)