This story of a little Christmas tree that no-one wants has a message of hope and new beginnings carried in both the text and illustrations. It is a very thoughtful and touching book to share at Christmas time.
A poor little fir tree has been planted without care and does not grow as it should. It is small and a little crooked. When the ugly little fir tree is taken to the city, no one wants to buy him; they prefer the big tall trees. As the shops start to shut on Christmas Eve a homeless boy asks the shopkeeper if he can take the tree, and down by the river in a cardboard box, decorated with a few candles, the tree finds itself at the centre of a special Christmas celebration.
As the boy and other homeless people surround the tree and start to play their music and sing a large crowd gather under the railway bridge to listen and to join in with the Christmas carols. There is great poignancy to this scene as people from all walks of life briefly join together in a shared celebration. Briefly the young boy is enjoying some magic and the little tree is bursting with happiness at this turn in events and its own special role.
Days later the boy moves on and the tree is collected up by a road sweeper. He spots the tiniest of green shoots on the tree and plants it in the corner of a local park. The final pages show the tree years later, now big and strong with families playing and relaxing under its spreading branches. As it looks back to its sad beginnings the tree ponders on how life has changed.
I love Emily Sutton’s lovely watercolour illustrations full of detail and the sort of little touches that children love. The modern theme is portrayed with a slightly classic, folk art feel that captures the moving elements of the story very well.
The story of the little tree and its progress and the opportunity for a fresh start when someone shows it a little care is particularly touching at Christmas time and is a thoughtful reminder that there is always hope. This book also draws attention to the plight of the homeless and though we may want to protect children from the sadder things in our society I think this subject is tackled with care and sensitivity.
It would be possible to miss the other story of second chances in this lovely book if you don’t look carefully at the illustrations. Although I don’t want to spoil the ending for new readers I think it’s important to mention that the story of the homeless boy is one of hope too. Emily Sutton has subtly included the ‘boy’ in the last illustration as a grown man with children of his own. A happy ending is there if you look closely and this lifts the book’s emotional impact. I love this combination of picture and text working together to create an unexpected moment of hope in difficult times.