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Friday, December 11, 2009

Bella's Tree, written by Janet Russell and illustrated by Jirina Marton. Groundwood, 2009. $19.95 ages 6 and up

""I could get us a tree, Nan."
"Go on. Sure, you're not much bigger than an ax, let alone able to swing one."
"Not so, Nan. I am after gettin' big and strong and smart and well coordinated. You just wouldn't believe how big and strong and smart and well coordinated I am after gettin'."
"Don't worry your little head, Bella. Someone'll bring us a tree."

After some pleading and convincing with her Nan, Bella sets out to find a Christmas tree that she can be proud to show her beloved grandmother. Little does Bella know that she will make three unsucccessful attempts before finding the tree that her Nan describes. Not wanting to be deemed 'frivolous', Nan insists that each tree...first an alder, then a spruce and finally a decorated so as not to waste them. Each time a new one arrives, Nan sings a tree-identifier song that might help her 'nature-impaired' granddaughter the next time she is sent to find a Christmas tree. When Bella finally finds the perfect fir, there is nothing left to decorate it. It is left in the darkness, obscure amongst the other beautiful trees.

While cutting the trees down, Bella has made promises to the birds whose home she was taking. Imagine the surprise on Christmas morning when the promises must be kept! The final illustration glows with the spirit and peace of the holiday season.

I love the language in this story and its message about the connection between children and their elders. Nan has much to teach her granddaughter and Bella is willing to learn. It has a simple plot, repetitive text and a collection of songs that will be fun to learn. Jirina Marton won the Governor General's Literary Award for illustration in English text. And she is so deserving of this special recognition for her work...she has created a world of wintry stillness both inside and out. It is such fun to watch Nan's house fill with the splendor of the season, and the final page is such a sweet surprise. This is a fine book to be shared at Christmas and for the rest of the year, too. Perhaps it will encourage listeners to share stories about their family and grandparents' teachings.

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