Survivor Tree by Marcie Colleen

Cover image for Survivor Tree.

Survivor Tree by Marcie Colleen, illustrated by Aaron Becker (9780316487672)

On a bustling street in New York City, a small tree grew along the tall steel buildings. It was there for almost thirty years, marking the seasons. Then one September day, there were explosions and buildings fell to rubble, crushing and burning the tree. The tree was found in the wreckage with a few green leaves and taken far away to fresh soil. For several seasons, the tree stayed bare, then one day blossoms and buds arrived. For ten years, the tree grew there until it was time to return home. Home to a newly empty sky, where people stopped and wept, and where the tree with its burns and scars offered a way to bridge past to present.

This picture book is based on the true story of the tree that survived the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001. Through seasons of bustling city streets to the attack itself to seasons of healing afterwards, the tree shows an inspiring resilience for us all. Using delicate prose, the author writes of the beauty of the tree even when people were not stopping to notice it. The survival of the tree is told with a gentle admiration for its very survival.

Becker beautifully captures the New York City setting of the tree as it changes from before the attack and afterwards. He offers not just a story of the tree itself but an accompanying story in the illustrations about a family growing up alongside the tree and then there loss and memories after the attack. It is this subtle human connection of people to the tree that add much to the book.

A haunting and beautiful look at 9/11 and the tree that survived it and continues to inspire. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Little, Brown and Company.

All of a Sudden and Forever by Chris Barton

All of a Sudden and Forever by Chris Barton

All of a Sudden and Forever: Help and Healing After the Oklahoma City Bombing by Chris Barton, illustrated by Nicole Xu (9781541526693)

This nonfiction picture book takes the tremendous tragedy of April 19, 1995 and leads readers to hope and a way forward. It looks deeply at the loss of life, at how so many people were lost and so many more were impacted by the deaths. It looks at the many broken bones and also the broken minds that resulted from the bombing too. The book then moves to after the bombing and the one tree that remained standing nearby. That American elm tree was battered  and scorched by the blast, yet it remained upright. It survived and became a beacon of hope for those who were impacted by the bombing. In spring, someone collected its seeds which then became part of the annual memorial service for the victims. As new tragedies happen, and they did and will in the future, those seeds and seedlings from Oklahoma City start the healing process and show that survival is possible and hope can return.

Barton’s words ache on the page. They are impossible to read without a deep feeling of mourning and loss, without recognizing what happened and what will continue to happen. The weaving of the story of the elm tree into the book is masterfully done, offering a glimpse of green and a path to the future. Barton writes with such empathy here. He allows the story to be told in all of its anguish and pain, and yet makes sure that hope has its place there as well.

The art by Xu is extraordinary. She uses the roots of the tree to intertwine with and embrace those in mourning, to show how interconnected we all are to one another. Done in ink and digitally, the art is a strong mixture of ethereal colors and grounding tree roots, people and spaces.

A powerful and evocative book about tragedy that celebrates life. Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Black Helicopters by Blythe Woolston

black helicopters

Black Helicopters by Blythe Woolston

Valley’s mother was killed by the black helicopters while she was out in the garden when Valley was four years old.  Raised by her father, she has been taught to hide at all times.  There is a den in their house where she and her brother Bo can never be found.  Valley knows above everything else that Those People will kill her without even thinking about it, just like a coyote.  But now Valley is out of the house and on the road with explosives strapped to her and the trigger waiting for her to decide exactly when to use it.  When the first explosive goes off prematurely, Valley is left on her own in a world she has had little contact with.  But Valley knows how to read people and how to manipulate them, right up to the end she is in complete control.  Or is she?

This taut thriller turns the world on its head.  Valley’s story is told in flashbacks so readers know that they are learning the backstory of a domestic terrorist.  And what is amazing about the writing and the storytelling here is that despite that knowledge, readers will begin to understand Valley and the way she was raised and how she came to be the person she is now.  That alone is a tremendous achievement.

Then there is Valley herself.  A girl who is bitter, strong and lonely.  She has lived much of her life in the company of only her father and brother and much of that she spent hiding completely alone.  She is bright and fierce, burning with a hatred for Those People that her father carefully instilled in her.  And she is wrong, oh so very wrong, about the world and about others and about her own family.  She is flawed and ever so human under that bomb.

Well written and carefully paced, this book is tantalizingly taut and thrilling.  In the end though, it is about a girl caught in a web of lies that she cannot see past.  Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

Life, After

Life, After by Sarah Darer Littman

Released July 2010.

Dani’s life is changed forever when a terrorist attack in her country of Argentina kills her aunt and the baby she is carrying.  Adding to the misery, the country of Argentina is in the middle of economic collapse.  Her father has lost his job and his sister and is now unable to cope.  Dani and her mother keep the family going with Dani fixing meals and caring for her younger sister.  Many people are fleeing Argentina, heading to Israel and the United States.  When Dani’s uncle makes an offer to get them visas, there is little choice but to move to the United States.  Dani must now cope with going to a large American high school, speaking and learning in English, and her father’s continued anger and depression.  In a world changed by the effects of terrorism, Dani finds understanding in the most unlikely of people and realizes that there is life afterwards.

This novel is one of many branches that twine throughout.  There are many things happening here, many things for the main character to deal with.  It is down to the skill of Littman that the book remains so cohesive and powerful.  These many branches are what make this book special and interesting.  They help tell the tale of immigration but also terrorism and economic collapse.  It is a timely story for American teens to read, one that will resound in their lives.

Dani is a great protagonist to see this experience through.  She is bright, helpful, giving, and yet can be angry, sad and confused as well.  The novel spends time in Argentina in the beginning, setting the stage to show just how much the family gave up in their move to America.  Often immigration stories start with the family already in the United States.  This time spent in Argentina really makes Dani and her family understandable and relatable.

Highly recommended, this book will reach its braches towards you and hold you tight.  Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from Advanced Reader Copy received from Scholastic.

Also reviewed by The Reading Zone and nomadreader.