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Thursday, April 26, 2018

Snowboy and the Last Tree Standing, written by Hiawyn Oram and illustrated by Birgitta Sif. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House. 2017. $22.99 ages 5 and up

"When nearly all the trees were gone, Snowboy thought, We can't breathe without trees. And he left one standing, hidden by his cloak of many uses. "OK," said Greenbackboy. "All the trees have gone to be made into things. In return for them we got this. Look!" 

In the world of imagination that two young boys create, we meet Snowboy and Greenbackboy. Snowboy and his Ice Troopers (two pigs) and the Polar Bear King are busy defeating a threat to their world when Greenbackboy shows up to play - and to make up a whole new game. He is certain his will be more fun. Snowboy complies, bringing along his Cloak of Many Uses.

The game is called KA-CHING, and the setting for the first part is the forest. Dark and somewhat forbidding, the players enter. Their task is to cut down all the trees. Snowboy knows better, and manages to hide one from his bossy friend. The trees are quickly sent away. Greenbackboy has chests full of KA-CHING to show for their work.

Next are the oceans. Plenty of fish to catch, pile in their boat, and be paid off with even more KA-CHING. Again, Snowboy knows that oceans need fish to survive. So, he lets two slip back into the water, unbeknownst to his greedy friend. The rest of the fish are sent for canning, Greenbackboy gets his reward, and he begins making plans for using all they are gathered. At that moment, a terrible storm blows in.

"As there were no trees to snag its wings,
 it swept all before it, tossing the mountains
of canned fish into the empty oceans,
where they sank and rusted and were lost."

Greenbackboy is unconcerned. He still has the KA-CHING! What good will it do now? Snowboy wonders. He's out of the game. He and his pals are left to do what they can to make their world a better place. Greenbackboy gets his comeuppance, and must ask for help.

An impressive tale of avarice and what results when we care more about money than about the world we live in. It's an important message for every one of us. The story is told with a real sense of goodness, and bravery. Great instincts, Snowboy!

Birgitta Sif does not disappoint, using her formidable artistic talent to bring quirky players and subtle light to this fine story. In the midst of greed's darkness, her expressive characters allow readers to feel the pain felt when no concern is shown for the natural world. 

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