Reviews /

Tree

Authored by Claire Saxby
Illustrated by Jess Racklyeft
Published by Allen & Unwin

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Tree is a non-fiction picture book by the author and illustrator team of the award-winning Iceberg.

In this nature storybook, we are introduced to a mountain ash ‘that is older than those who find it and younger than the land it grows from’. It begins by sharing how the tree grows using water and light to make energy, and how the tree communicates with other trees through underground networks. The rest of the text focuses on the tree as a habitat, supporting many other Australian plants and animals during the day and night. For example, wattles need its shade, possums sleep in its hollows and treecreepers eat the beetles in its bark. We are encouraged to use our senses to imagine the tree in its natural habitat. ‘See the branches lean, so far above. Listen to the leaves bustle. Smell the forest air’. There is a final environmental message that to protect such trees is ‘an investment in the health of our world.’

The lyrical text is rich in descriptive language: ‘A boulder-big wombat tears at the tufty grass. Wallabies thump by and the wombat barrels away through the undergrowth.’

 An engaging description of what is occurring close to the tree provides a superb model that would inspire and support children to write their own poem or settings description.

‘In the layered litter, a scaly thrush flicks.

A lyrebird scritch-scratches.

Slaters curl, beetles burrow

And centipedes scurry.

A robin perches on a wattle branch, watches and waits.

Beneath the bracken, a fairy-wren chitters as a spotted pardalote disappears…’

The reader needs to slow down to appreciate the detail in the beautiful, glossy illustrations. We need to look closely for some of the animals as they are camouflaged against the vegetation. The text invites us to do this. ‘Look carefully. There – on the mossy log – a blue-tongued lizard basks in a sunpatch.’

There are many intriguing, unfamiliar animals and plants included in the illustrations. I wonder if the addition of labels (here and on the lovely endpapers) would enhance the text further. The cover art is striking. The front cover gives a sense of the tree’s majesty as the reader’s eye is drawn up to where the lofty crown is high in the sky amongst the clouds. The back cover gives a sense of the tree’s strength, grounded deep into the earth with roots spreading beyond the confines of the cover. This mighty tree contrasts with the young sapling we see on the title page!

Tree would appeal to children and teachers across the primary range. It could be used as a read aloud, for writing poetry or to support a habitats topic.