Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Warm Little Tree to Share

This small book, Little Tree, written by e.e. cummings and illustrated by Deborah Kogan Ray, is so sweet and warm that I actually expect the pages to be warm to the touch like a mug of cocoa or a slice of buttery toast. The text is e. e. cummings' lovely poem in which a child addresses a Christmas tree. It begins, "little tree, little silent Christmas tree, you are so little, you are more like a flower." The boy goes on to wonder if the tree was sorry to leave the green forest, and comforts it with offers of a hug and a kiss and decorations. He says "look the spangles, that sleep all the year in a dark box, dreaming of being taken out and allowed to shine." He tells the tree to put up its arms to be dressed and he and his sister will sing Noel.
The gentle words are matched with soft illustrations which depict a young boy and girl bundled up against the cold bringing a little tree home from the lot, decorating it, and setting it in their front window for passersby to admire.
I've had my copy of this book for nine or ten years, and I've read it over the years to students and my own children. I've never focused on the setting. A recent visit to my son's suburban kindergarten class gave me another way to discuss it. The teacher was talking to the students at circle time about books that are set in cities and apartments. Apartment living seemed so glamorous to that group of five year olds. They mentioned two of my favorites, Knufflebunny and Corduroy. When we took Little Tree out this year, we talked about the setting. My kids think it is set either in Hoboken, NJ or my brother's Brooklyn neighborhood. It started us wondering how people in different parts of our country and world might decorate for the holidays. Isn't it great when an old favorite can inspire new conversations?

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