Debut writer Brennan and illustrator Meganck create a touching folk story about the transformative powers of love.
Despite his talents, a skilled woodsman is poor because his son is often very sick, and the family must spend all the woodsman’s earnings on medicine. To solve their financial problems, the woodsman travels into the center of the forest to find and cut down a heart tree, a rare tree that produces expensive wood. When the woodsman recognizes that the heart tree is the home of a dryad, he realizes he cannot cut it down; instead, they agree that the woodsman can carve the dryad’s tree as living art. When the woodsman returns home, his son insists that the woodsman carve the likeness of the dryad and that, despite his illness, he come along on the journey to the heart tree. When they arrive at the heart tree, the dryad, who doesn’t have the energy to show herself, is surprised to discover that the son can see her without effort. The son works for his father, describing the dryad’s beauty, all the while falling in love with her. As the woodsman’s work draws to completion, the son weakens and dies—but when his father buries him, a heart tree grows over the grave, and the son and the dryad are united. Brennan’s prose is by turns simple and poetic: “When they arrived at the glade and stood before the tree, the Son saw framed within the Heart Tree a glowing woman beautiful to behold, with leaves and flowers woven into her hair. She looked at him with acorn-brown eyes that were streaked with green, blue, and purple.” Though the word count is high for a picture book, grade school readers will be drawn in by the fairy-tale qualities of the writing and Meganck’s beautiful illustrations, with their soft palette and Polar Express–like allure. Meganck deftly portrays the connection between the dryad and her tree by showing parts of the dryad as translucent, and her depiction of the dryad’s grief at the death of the son might summon tears.
The strong offering of a bittersweet new folk tale with striking illustrations.