Under My Tree
Author: Muriel Tallandier
Illustrator: Mizuho Fujisawa
Translator: Sarah Klinger
Susanne gets to know the tree over many visits, their relationship strengthening with each one.
Inspired by her own daughter, Under My Tree is Tallendier’s first foray into picture books. The book was originally written in French.
Quick Rating: Do Not Buy
Susanne, who lives in the city, spends many vacations with her Grandparents who live near the woods. During one such vacation she discovers a tree while walking with her Grandmother in the forest. Susanne gets to know the tree over many visits, their relationship strengthening with each one.
Fujisaway’s illustrations of nature are lyrical. She delineates the special tree from the rest of the forest by providing more graceful, less symmetrical arcs. The special tree’s uniqueness comes through and it teems with life. The natural surroundings are inspired and add depth to the book.
Fujisaway’s illustrations of humans, however, are less inspired. I cannot figure out whether this was on purpose or not. But, the humans are not rendered with the same attention as the rest of the elements in the book. This proves distracting.
No Space on My Bookshelf
I’ve seen the book advertised as “[a] modern take on Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree that celebrates the friendship between a curious child and her favorite tree.” If that was the aim of the book, I don’t think it quite hits its mark; at least not in this translation. Silverstein’s prose in The Giving Tree is simple and consistent. His words are sparse and carefully chosen to evoke reaction and symbiosis. There is definitely a relationship in the Silverstein book–whether or not it’s a healthy one is left to the reader. Indeed the boy and the tree in The Giving Tree speak to each other.
The language in Under My Tree, however, is more descriptive, consisting mainly of Susanne’s admiration for the tree. Yes, she likes the tree; even loves it. But why is this tree different from all the other ones? That, is not so clear.
Moreover, the prose in Under My Tree, perhaps as translated, is problematic. It is sometimes inspired, sometimes clumsy. Let’s take a look at the following passage:
The second visit, I decided to climb my tree. I had to get to know her! I found out that she is very complicated. As I climbed up, each branch split again and again like a labyrinth. When I reached the top, I got my reward: a spectacular view stretching beyond the forest’s edge. It was wonderful.
Start. Stop. Start. Stop. Reading like a bad translation, we are left with a list of things Susane did with the tree that day. So what? Uninspired prose does not hold attention; no matter how pretty the pictures. Compare that paragraph with the following one a few pages later:
Thanks to my tree, I could tell that summer was ending. Her leaves started to drop off, the air cooled, and the sunset came earlier.
Much better. Much more lyrical. Perhaps a better translation. The words dance in the mind along with the pictures on the page. Uneven writing (or translation, or indeed editing) lends itself to confusion and a wandering mind.
One last note, the book also contains factoids in the form of “leaves” that appear on certain pages provind reading prompts and things to do. These are distracting and take away from the story. They should have been placed in an activity section at the end of the book.
Uneven illustrations, writing and editing don’t lend themselves to good storytelling. In short, there are too many distractions to keep this book on my bookshelf. [End.]
More books for this Age Group can be found here.
Please, leave comments! I love a HEALTHY exchange of ideas. After all, critical thinking is essential to life.
My thanks to NetGalley and the Publisher for providing an Advance Copy of this book. The views expressed herein are my own.
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