I’ve easily read today’s book 100 times but to my son, it just never seems to get old! It’s a picture book that he received when he was 3 or 4, through an excellent program I’ve cheered before, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. It was a favorite 5 years ago and it still is today. Here’s hoping your kiddos love it as much as mine does!
As An Oak Tree Grows, written by G. Brian Karas, follows the life of an oak tree over the course of 225 years, beginning with its planting in 1775 and its destruction in 2000. While the story is about the oak tree, the visual interest of the book is what’s going on in the background, as just like the oak tree, the town it’s planted in begins to grow and change over time. My son still loves to point out the changes from one page to the next, even if he’s noticed them dozens of times before.
At the start of the book, a little boy plants an acorn outside of what appears to be a Native American dwelling. In the background, we observe a river that has a single dock with a couple of clipper ships in the water. You can imagine these to be merchant ships, bringing supplies to a small handful of inhabitants in the area. At this point, there are trees as far as you can see, though it’s winter and they’re bare.
On the next page, we’ve jumped forward 25 years. In the year 1800, we’re beginning to see small changes taking place. The little boy has grown up and moved away but in his home’s place, a farmhouse has been built. Most of the surrounding trees have been cleared in favor of farmland. The farmhouse family has plowed most of their land, aside from the oak tree in the front yard. We can see the start of a small town near the dock, including a church and shops.
In 1825, the oak tree is really starting to spread its limbs. Heavy snow sometimes causes the growing branches to snap off. The town is also starting to sprawl. Though it’s winter and difficult to make out every detail, we can see that there are now two churches in this small town and about 25 other buildings which we can imagine might be shops, eateries and likely a schoolhouse. There are no boats or ships on the water during the winter months but the original dock has been extended.
A lot happens for both the tree and the town over the next 25 years and by 1850, we’re able to see the beginnings of a potential city. The farmhouse has remained the same, though the farm has been developed. Steer powered ploughs and horse drawn carriages are used by the townspeople for farming and transportation. The town has many more buildings, a second dock and railroad tracks now bring more commerce and people to the area. We can also see a bridge in the distance, connecting the town to the other side of the water.
The oak tree is in full bloom in the year 1875 and this makes it difficult to see much of the town behind it. But based on what we can see, things only continue to progress. Ships are coming and going, there’s at least one factory on the waterfront and the back area of the town is beginning to take shape. I think I even spy what might be a cemetery peeking from the edge of the oak tree. A new generation of the farmhouse family is in the home; they keep busy tending their cows and the children enjoy a swing hanging from the tree’s branches.
It’s nighttime in 1900, illustrating that electricity has come to the town. It’s winter again so the tree is leaf-less, giving us a chance to see beyond it. We still can’t make out many details in the dark but judging by the expanse of twinkling lights, it’s clear that things have been happening over the past 25 years. There’s either a second town or a separate part of the first town across the water.
We get another winter scene in 1925 but this time, we see a man pushing a Model-T type car through the snow across the street from the farmhouse. We can even spot an early model airplane through the branches of the tree and a second across the water! A third dock has been constructed and there appears to be a second factory over the bridge. There are many more homes in the area and dirt roads connect different areas of the town.
The farmhouse is just as quaint as ever in 1950, though the tree has grown larger and the farm plot is now gone, with a grassy lawn in its place. A modern car is being washed in the new driveway. We see in the left bottom corner of the page that a house has been constructed next door. The barn across the street is now a gas station. Narrow country roads have been replaced by paved streets and motor boats dot the water. You can even see a jet airplane soaring through the sky and the bridge has been updated.
In 1975, the tree has grown to overtake the entire two page spread. It’s in full bloom and it’s impossible to see most of the world beyond. It now boasts a treehouse, and is also home to various animals, birds and insects. To the side of the farmhouse, we can see that an overpass has been built, leading to another part of town that is unfortunately off the page. I want to see what’s over there!
There’s a storm brewing in 2000 and because of the haze in the air, it’s impossible to see beyond the oak tree’s almost bare limbs. There are two deer in the front yard so the area is clearly wildlife friendly. Children are waiting for a school bus and the gas station across the street has been rebranded as a chain style business.
That evening, lightning strikes the 200 year old tree and splits it in half! The town is cast into darkness by a power outage and we must wait until morning to see the full scope of the destruction. When the sun comes up, the work begins to cut the limbs into pieces that can be used for furniture, firewood and mulch. The farmhouse family’s car has been crushed by a fallen branch. I just noticed that the father is standing with an insurance adjuster, clipboard in hand. I’ve never noticed that before. See, you can read this book 100 times and still see something new on the 101st read!
People come to see the place where the oak tree once stood. We feel a sense of loss from seeing the gaping hole left behind. But… we can finally see the full scope of the town that lay beyond. It’s a bustling town with shops, a grocery store, office buildings, schools, houses and apartments. The book closes on a promising note, with the tiny sprout of a new oak growing next to the massive stump of the first tree.
I didn’t think I had much to say about this book and here we are, nearly 1300 words later! As I said, the story is sweet but it’s more about the discovery of what’s happening in the illustrations. This has been a really special book for our family and I hope it is for yours, too.