Title: The Last Tree
Author & Illustrator: Emily Haworth-Booth
Publisher: Pavilion, 2020
Themes: hope, rebellion, environment, trees, conservation, problem-solving, harmony
Once Upon a time , a group of friends were looking for a place to live.
The desert was too hot.
The valley was too wet,
and the mountain too windy.
Nowhere was quite right until they saw the first tree…
Once upon a time a group of friends were seeking a place to call home. The desert was too hot, the valley was too wet and the mountain was too windy.
Then they found the forest. It was perfect. The leaves gave shelter from the sun and rain, and a gentle breeze wound through the branches.
But the friends soon wanted to build shelters. The shelters became houses, then the houses got bigger. All too soon they wanted to control the environment and built a huge wooden wall around the community.
As they cut down the trees, the forest becomes thinner, until there is just one last tree standing.
It is down to the children to find a solution.
Why I like this book:
A beautiful book about how young people have agency and can make a real difference.
The author begins by introducing a harmonious relationship between nature and humans by using soft, gentle language and positive imagery – “and came to the forest, where dappled light fell through the leaves and gentle breeze twisted the branches.” She highlights the use nature can have for humans but also the danger in exploiting this as well. Her language becomes harsher as she describes this new relationship, “In time they started to forget their games and songs, and soon the happy village had grown cold and hard, for now the villagers had walls around their hearts.”
Of course, the use of the wall seems very topical and highlights the danger of creating barriers between people as this only encourages distrust and discrimination. This shift in warmth and sensitivity comes through strongly with the illustrations that become darker and more linear without the soft curves and colors of nature. The daunting wall that overlooks the settlement blocks out all the light and color which seeps into the emotions and lives of the people living there.
The children rediscover the importance of nature and slowly revive the heart of the community. “As they planted seeds and tended the saplings, they talked and sang and as their children grew, a new forest grew with them.” This idea of regrowth in both nature and the lives of the children brings the story full circle and leaves readers with an invitation to embrace a balanced relationship with nature, where humans do not destroy or take for granted the joy of trees.
I would use this with young students looking at nature and the environment and link this to science and biology as well. We could also discuss the idea of the wall and how creating divides and barriers between people tends to encourage distrust and division. The illustrations felt very British to me, and because of their almost childlike quality, I think they will inspire children, and lots of art projects that could be centered around ‘The Last Tree’.
Each week a group of bloggers reviews picture books we feel would make great educational reads. To help teachers, caregivers and parents, we have included resources and/or activities with each of our reviews. A complete list of the thousands of books we have reviewed can be found sorted alphabetically and by topics, here on Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.