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ME + TREE by Alexandria Giardino Kirkus Star


by Alexandria Giardino ; illustrated by Elena Balbusso & Anna Balbusso

Pub Date: March 2nd, 2021
ISBN: 978-1-56846-346-9
Publisher: Creative Editions/Creative Company

A tree stump on an urban playground and a girl new to the neighborhood forge a bond with their life stories.

This is one of those rare picture books that demands equal attention to lyrical text and outstanding art (always in double-page spreads) to work its magic. Before the text begins, readers are treated to a rainbow of tree rings across the pages. The next spread’s collage art shows a run-down urban setting, including chain-link fencing, tired playground equipment, tall brick buildings (painted with cheery graffiti that brighten the scene)—and a thick stump, introduced by a single line of text. The page turn reveals an entirely different mood: An enormous apple tree spreads across the pages, full of fruit, leaves, and active people. The text explains that this was the stump’s former life. The following pages lead readers from the tree’s demise to the unnoticed girl on the playground who spies the stump, whispers to it, and traces its rings. With her fingertip, she draws her own story upon the stump, from idyllic childhood to scenes of the girl and other people (many are brown-skinned; some women are in headscarves) leaving their homes and then making a dangerous sea voyage. Short but powerful phrases with extensive, carefully contextualized vocabulary reveal the girl’s emotions as she draws. The final double-page spread’s art relieves the sweet melancholia of the penultimate one.

Lovely—a perfect segue into discussions about loneliness, empathy, refugees, and more.

(Picture book. 6-10)