Friday, September 23, 2011
by Alan Zwiebel
Illustrated by David Catrow
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons
Ages : 6 to 9
Sometimes we make deep connections with some part of nature. Sometimes, a thing with trunks and roots and falling leaves and sturdy branches, can become the very backbone of our lives. Sometimes, a children's book can read simply, as a letter from a father to his children. Sometimes, it can be all about just this one, big, lovable, fixture of their growing years. This tree called Steve.
As the letter begins, a father writes his children, reminding them of the day they came to check out the plot of overrun ground, that was to house their home. Of that memorable day, when all the children gathered around this great, weird hulk of a thing that they couldn't peel their eyes away from. And how the littlest one couldn't even pronounce the word 'tree' and it became 'Steve' instead, and how 'Steve' stuck. And how he became the centrifugal force around which their lives started to revolve. How he was a swing holder for the kids, and a target, and a jump rope holder and the shade under which, Kirby the dog's little shed was built. How when the dryer gave out, he held all their washing in a line, as also the hammock in which big, bulky Uncle Chester took a nap in. How the kids camped out in a tent by him after a barbecue, watching their parents as they danced in the moonlight.
"Through the years, Mom and I have tried to show you, in a world filled with strangers, the peace that comes with having things you can count on and a safe place to return to after a hard day or a long trip."
This is the part of the letter that captures all that Steve is and was to the family. Was, because one day, in a fierce storm that hit, Steve takes his final blow. But, the father is quick to point out, even in his final act of falling, when he could have fallen on the house, or the little one's swing, or Kirby's house, or Mom's garden, Steve performed his last trick and protected all of us to the very end, and friends like that are hard to find.
It is the tenderest moment and you can feel it in every pulse of your own emotion. But just when it starts to feel melancholy and the yard looks forlorn and empty, there is a a wonderful upswing that leaves you feeling that you have come full circle, and that some things do last forever.
The illustrations by Catrow, are simply magical and pulsing with energy. From the dreamy view of the overgrown plot, to the carefree childhood days spent under Steve's nourishing branches, to the depiction of fallen underwear from the clothesline, covering Kirby's shaggy face, to the magic of the lights strung to the tree on the evening of the camp out, to the fiery hues of orange on a brisk, fall day, to the shock of seeing sharp spokes of wood sticking out of the fallen trunk of Steve, to the picture of utter desolation of Kirby standing atop the flat, empty stump to the final sensory aesthetics of a window view, of the very same scene, but extending down the yard to another tree at the end, with a little, newly built treehouse atop it. And the father writes....
"Steve will always be with us, in our hearts, in our thoughts....and in a different tree at the other end of our yard."
Yes, somethings are forever.