Sometimes I worry that I might get blowback for writing about books that I think boys will like. Of course, I realize that boys and girls can enjoy any book. But because I’m raising a son, that’s my area of expertise. And it’s because of this that I feel compelled to share a book that can help a boy who may be grappling with the fear of growing up.
Maybe there’s a new baby in the house and they’ve suddenly been thrust into the role of the big brother. Or perhaps they’ve made the leap from kindergarten to first grade and now there are bigger expectations on their tiny shoulders.
It’s so much easier to stay comfortable in a position where you’re being so well cared for. Why would you want to give that up? What if growing upward and outward is uncomfortable? What if you don’t know what will happen next?
This is the dilemma contemplated in Little Tree by Loren Long. First off, this book is a joy to read because it’s beautifully illustrated, much like other books by Long, including the Otis series. Little Tree tells the story of (spoiler alert!) a little tree who is growing up among several other trees of his kind. They all start with the same small green leaves but when fall rolls around and it’s time to shed the leaves that have now turned yellow, orange and red, Little Tree refuses to let his go.
Winter comes and Little Tree is still holding fast to his now brown leaves. Various woodland creatures are curious and ask him why he hasn’t let them go yet. But he doesn’t answer, he just holds on tight.
When spring rolls around again and the small trees around him begin to sprout new green leaves, it’s quite obvious that there’s something different about Little Tree. For one, he still has the same old brown leaves. But he is also noticeable shorter than the other trees. It’s as if he’s been stunted by refusing to let go of last year’s leaves. He can still hear the mourning dove that used to sing in his branches but she hasn’t landed on him in some time.
Summer ends and fall is once again upon the inhabitants of the forest. Little Tree is still clinging to those old brown leaves. A fox tries to encourage him with a countdown… ‘You can do it. One, two…’. But nope, he keeps a firm grip.
All around him, the forest continues to grow, including those small trees that were once just like him. They are now fully grown and completely cover him with their shady branches. He’s absolutely dwarfed by their size and he can hardly hear the mourning dove’s tune because she is now so far away. But another fall comes and goes with Little Tree still holding tight.
Throughout that long winter, Little Tree looks up and begins to reminisce on how all of the other trees were once his size. And it is during this contemplation that he finally lets go. His leaves blow away and fall all around him. Little Tree feels the harsh cold of the winter for the very first time. But…
Soon it is spring again and his new green leaves begin to grow. He sprouts up a few inches at first, then a few feet before the end of the summer. All of the creatures of the forest take notice and crowd around Little Tree to marvel at his tremendous growth. He drops his leaves in the fall… and more growth follows. He weathers another winter… and now his treetop is off the page!
My son and I first read this book as a library check out but it must have resonated with him because a month later, he asked if we could have it for our home library. I pay attention to the times that he asks to read it because it’s a book that gives me some insight to what might be going on inside of him, that might not be obvious on the outside.
You may find yourself choked up while reading, as I did the first time. I think this story is completely relatable not just to a child but to a parent, as well. We must always toe that line between grounding our children with strong roots while also giving them wings to fly. I feel that Little Tree speaks to both parent and child in a very powerful way about the importance of embracing growth and taking chances.