Christopher Cheng (text) and Bruce Whatley (illustrator), One Tree, Puffin Books, April 2019, 32 pp., RRP $24.99 (hbk), ISBN 9780143786733
One Tree tells the story of a boy and his grandfather living in a big, bustling, busy city. Grandfather is silent and sad, although he hasn’t always been this way. Before the city grew up around him, he was a young farmer connected to his land, telling stories of his days spent working in nature. The main character, a young boy, wants to connect with his Grandfather, and when he finds a plant growing in the pavement, he finds a way to reach him. Together they begin a plant revolution in their apartment, one which slowly spreads to the apartments around them.
This book is so simply but beautifully written, and the illustrations so vibrant and effective, that once I read it, I had to turn back and read it again immediately. The story of the grandfather slowly being drawn into helping his grandson with the tree was so touching. I especially appreciated when the grandfather starts talking quietly to the tree.
Bruce Whatley’s illustrations are achieved digitally, but give the appearance of linocuts. This technique, in its blend of old and new technology complements the themes of the book: the old and the new can find ways to coexist.
While thematically matching similar books like Anna Walker’s Florette, and Peter Carnavas’ Last Tree in the City, Cheng’s One Tree is elevated by the relationship at the centre. Teachers could draw on the environmental themes to delve into the idea of urbanisation and change, as well as discussing inter-generational relationships.
Reviewed by Madeleine Crofts