Review: The Family Tree by David McPhail

family tree

The Family Tree by David McPhail

This is the story of a very special tree.  It was left standing when the rest of the space was cleared to build a house many years ago.  This tree would shelter the little house.  It witnessed many changes over the years as horse and wagon changed to cars.  There were births and deaths on the farm, until finally it was the great-great grandson of the original building of the home who lived there.  The tree still stood, strong and straight.  But then it was threatened as a new road was planned that would run right through it.  The grandson refused to let the tree be cut down, and wild animals join him to keep it from happening.  So the road plans must be changed and the tree continues to grow now by the large bend in the road.

There is something to be said about a picture book that decides to tell the story that feels right, the one that resounds in your bones, rather than the one that would happen in real life.  When I saw the bulldozers in the book, I braced myself for heartache, or for the story to turn into that of growing a new tree from an acorn that originated with this tree.  But instead McPhail told a story for tree lovers of all ages, who wish that there were bends in the big highways to keep huge old trees alive. 

McPhail’s writing is simple and straight-forward.  He tells the story with a great matter-of-fact tone that belies the wildlife appearing and the wonder of the tree standing.  His art is signature McPhail with its fine ink lines and watercolor softness.  It has both the clarity of the modern day and the softness of memories.

Get this into the hands of those who hug trees.  They are guaranteed to love it.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt and Company.

Review: The Fairy Ring by Mary Losure

fairy ring

The Fairy Ring or Elsie and Frances Fool the World by Mary Losure

This is the true story of two young English girls who fooled everyone with the photographs they took.  Elsie and Frances were cousins who hadn’t met until Frances moved to England from South Africa.  When Frances, age 9, visited the beck behind their small house, she saw tiny little brown men in green clothes walking about.  But the grownups teased her about seeing fairies, and there was one thing that Elsie at age 15 wouldn’t tolerate and that was teasing.  So the girls set out to take a photograph of fairies that would stop the teasing entirely.  It was all meant to be a little joke, but quickly got out of hand as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle got involved along with international publicity.  It wasn’t until much later that the ruse was finally admitted to.  But in the end, there is still one magical photograph that wasn’t staged by the girls, and you can decide if there are really fairies in it.

This well-researched nonfiction book for children has the appeal of fairies and also the intriguing story of two young people who lied and got away with it for a very long time.  Losure manages to recreate the world that the children were growing up in, but not dwell on overly long descriptions.  It is a brief book, one that looks closely at the truth behind the photographs but also one that keeps one small part open to the wonder of fairies too. 

The girls could have been depicted in a quite different way than Losure handles them here.  They did deceive people and created more images that spread more lies.  But Losure does not show them as calculating at all, rather they are caught in the life that their small prank takes on, unable to admit the truth and unable to stop the insatiable curiosity about the images.  There is an exceptional dignity to the way their story is told here, one that pays homage to both the lie and to the belief.

A very readable nonfiction work that will be enjoyed by children reading the popular fairy series out right now and may lead those fiction readers to find more nonfiction to enjoy.  Appropriate for ages 8-11.

Reviewed from library copy.