As is evident from schoolchildren protests led by Greta Thunberg, climate change is one of the biggest concerns on young people’s, as well as grown-ups’, minds. So it’s not surprising to see the surge of environment themed picture books in recent years (Here We Are by Oliver Jeffers, Plastic by Eun-ju Kim, and Greta and the Giants by Zoe Tucker, to name a few). It might be a cunning marketing strategy but it’s not entirely a bad thing as at least the messages of these books are important.
There are so many books on environment. But, because the 21st of March is International Day of Forests and this year’s theme is “Learn to Love Forests” with focus on the importance of education at all levels in achieving sustainable forest management and biodiversity conservation, I’m sharing The Last Tree written by Ingrid Chabbert and illustrated by Guridi (Kinds Can Press 2017).
I grew up in a small farming town in Japan where I had a easy access to field, orchards and woods. Also, when I visited my grandparents town, the sea and mountain were only a few minutes walk away! So, having an easy access to green space is very important to me to this day. I’m lucky to live in London, the greenest major city in Europe (40% of its surface area is made up of publicly accessible green space). This sounds privileged, but it’s hard to imagine living in a place with zero green space.
But that’s the setting of this book. The protagonist lives in a concrete city without any grass or trees. Instead, they “had roads, walls and lots of other ugly things.” Guridi (full name is RaÏl Nieto Guridi) created the bleak, dystopia with fantastic simplicity. His concrete world is built, not with realistic details, but with texture and mood. I like the way the two boys are just silhouette. I think the anonymity helps readers to project themselves on them. Also, his mixed media artwork is very clever and interesting.
The boy longs to roll around in the green grass like his father had when he was a child. Only place he can see green is in books.
When I got home, I lost myself in my books. To see some green, some leaves… some happiness.
Then one day, behind a crumbling wall, the boy and his best friend find a “small tree”.
“It’s so beautiful! I whispered.
“It’s the first one I’ve seen.”
“Do you think it’s the last tree?”
When they hear that a condominium is being built right on the spot where their small tree is growing, the two boys hatch a rescue plan to make sure the last tree survives.
Years later, they return to see their tree. It has grown tall, huge and majestic. This poignant story offers a powerful environmental message but at its core it’s a tender coming-of-age tale. The moment they decided to save the tree, they grew up. And this story give us hope – with a bit of courage and determination, even small children can make a difference. This book would make a terrific classroom read for International Day of Forests, or for any day to talk about the environment.