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Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Memory Tree, written and illustrated by Britta Teckentrup. Orchard UK, Hachette. 2013. $16.99 ages 4 and up

"Owl was the first to speak.

He smiled warmly and said,
"I remember when Fox and I
were very young. Every
autumn, we raced to see who
could catch more falling
The other animals remembered
and smiled."

Whenever I send a sympathy card I try to include this Thomas Campbell quote: To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die. I fervently believe in his assertion about the importance of memories. Our family has lived without David (husband, father, friend, teacher, champion) for more than eleven years now, and we keep him alive in our hearts through our stories. It is those memories that connect us still to our life together, and remind us every day how much we were (and are) loved.

When Fox grows tired and dies in a forest glade, his friends are stunned. They are sad. They cannot imagine their lives without his presence. But, they understand that it was his time to leave. As they gather in reverence, they are silent. Owl breaks the ice, allowing Fox's friends to begin to add their memories for the gathering of friends. Though sad at his passing, their memories are happy ones. It is so important to share them.

As they sit and share, a small orange plant pokes out of the snow. With each story, the plant grows taller until it becomes a small tree...a constant reminder of their beloved friend. As the days pass and the tree grows with each new story shared, his friends feel comforted:

"Fox's tree was big and strong enough to shelter all the animals. It was always buzzing with life. The birds built their nests among the leaves and Owl raised his grandchicks on the branches. Squirrel found a cozy home in the trunk and Bear, Deer and Rabbit slept in its shade. They tree gave strength to everyone who had loved Fox."

It is a beautiful story, simply told. Ms. Teckentrup's graphic, textured art has a snowy softness that reflects the quiet passing of Fox, and his friends' sadness as they adjust to life without him. The colors are subdued at the beginning, but grow in vibrancy as various happy memories are shared. Each turn of the page offers new delight for those sharing it. 

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