Saying goodbye to a friend is tied together with the experience of climbing in Kirsch’s sentimental latest.
Roger learns a last lesson from his friend Adelia before her family moves away: how to climb a tree. “What if I fall?” he worries. What follows is a primer on both getting up into the leaves and coping with the loss of someone you’re attached to. Kirsch elegantly makes the connection with affirmations that work both ways: “Hang on tight with both hands”; “take it one branch at a time”; and, inevitably, “letting go will be the hardest part!” If it seems tree-twee, the pace and Roger’s perpetually grim but trusting face make up for it. The busily illustrated pages that show Roger and Adelia having their last moments together are intercut with items she’s collected to break Roger’s fall, presented on contrasting white backgrounds. These pages come across like warm, flashing memories. By the time Roger makes his solo climb and falls, smiling, into a gigantic pile of Adelia’s making, it feels like a tremendous and joyful payoff to what has previously seemed like a sad learning experience. Adding to the vibe are Kirsch’s careful details: bespectacled, pink-skinned Roger’s fussy clothing, brown-skinned Adelia’s flower garlands, the ridged texture of the tree itself. Close readers might wonder if Adelia falls victim to the “magical minority” trope, but as both children are equally swiftly sketched it does not seem to apply.
A well-cultivated story that plants a seed about the value of friends and what they leave with us, even when they’re gone. (Picture book. 3-8)