Title: Survivor Tree
Author: Marcie Colleen
Illustrator: Aaron Becker
Publisher: Little Brown, 2021
Format/Genre: Historical Fiction
Themes: 9/11, hope, trees, survival, New York, threat, national history,
A TREE STOOD STEEL STRAIGHT AND PROUD at the foot of the towers that filled the sky.
It grew mostly unnoticed, silently marking the seasons.
In lower Manhattan, a small pear tree grew among the tall buildings. It was there for almost thirty years, marking the seasons. Then one September day, there were explosions and buildings fell to rubble, burying and burning the tree. The tree was rescued and taken far away to be tended and nurtured by a botanist in the Bronx. Its survival was unsure. For ten years, the tree grew in its safe place eventually sprouting new buds and blossoms until it was time to return home. It was returned to the location of such devastation; its scars offering a symbol of healing as part of the 9/11 memorial.
Why I like this book:
A sparsely written, beautifully lyrical and powerful retelling of the 9/11 terrorist attack in New York City. Marcie chooses to tell this story from the POV of the resilient little pear tree plucked from the rubble. The story is narrated through the seasons; the choice of words, POV and seasonal rhythms masterfully present this history in a stunningly receptive way for the intended audience. The focus is not on the events or terrorism of that day, but on hope and resilience, and yet Aaron’s moving artwork doesn’t allow the readers to gloss over the horror either.
There is a visible line of demarcation on the bark of this tree indicating the day the towers came down. In the author’s note in the back, Marcie notes that Gallery Pear trees have a short life span, usually not more than twenty years. This tree has lived twenty years since 9/11. Man, I love trees! And I love this picture book.
This is such a multilayered book. The pictures tell an additional story of a brother and sister growing up around the tree. After the tree has been replanted, you discover that the sister is missing, and the brother now has a family that visits the tree.
For any adults reading this, it is a haunting and breathtaking account of these events, which will bring many of us to tears. For children, it is a powerful window into this history of devastation and hope.
This has a specific and eternal message. “Even in the darkest times, color will always return to the world.”
This would be a great read aloud to all elementary kids right on up to middle school readers. Young audiences will respond to the depth and powerful hope of the story and sense the connection to a historic event that is not part of their lived experience, and yet shaped the world in which they live.
The back matter on the life of this tree, an author’s note, and an illustrator’s note all add depth and context.
The book could also be used in a comparison unit if read alongside:
This Very Tree: A Story of 9/11, Resilience, and Regrowth by Sean Rubin. Branches of Hope: The 9/11 Survivor Tree by Ann Magee, illustrated by Nicole Wong
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.