The Last Tree by Ingrid Chabbert & Raúl Nieto Guridi (Illustrations)

5 stars
I've gone through this book numerous times and am still wondering how to write about it in a way that will do it credit and capture its essence. I suspect it is beyond me, but here is my poor attempt. 

When a picture book works, there is a seamless marriage of image and words. Separating one from the other in this artistic union becomes impossible. 

This is one of those books.

Guridi's illustrations are paradoxically dark and joyful. The abstract illustrations portray landscapes and people in minimal detail. I like that we never really get enough information to determine the children's gender. The city is portrayed as large rectangles in varying shades of grey. The children, their bikes, books, the small details of their personal world, and the tiny bits of nature are the only aspects of colour against this backdrop of a drab world. 

Chabbert's text is similarly contrary, being a combination of despair and hope. 

A father tells a bored child stories of his life growing up. The memory of the father's childhood compares to his child's in stark contrast. dad told stories about the world when he was young.
His favourite thing was rolling around
in the grass with his best friend.
Cartwheels on Monday, leapfrog on 
Wednesday and kite-flying on Sunday. 

This is not the experience of the child.

I had a best friend too.
but not the grass to go with him.
Instead, we had roads, walls and
lots of other ugly things.

The only green the child and their best friend have is a patch of grass so tiny, the blades can be counted. They bike to visit it, only to discover that the number is diminishing.

At home, the child finds solace inside books that display the green of the natural world.

One day the children find a tree seedling. 

Upon discovering that it is threatened by the construction of a 247 floor condominium, they come up with a plan and decide to rescue it. This is shown in child like illustrations on lined paper. It shows the life cycle of a tree with the rescue revealed in the process. The two children bike far from the city and plant the tree.

The children's rescue of the tree provides a dystopian counterpoint of hope. In spite of the fact that we might think this would be an optimistic event, when we eventually see these two characters, now adults, visiting this last tree, it's portrayed in darkness. 

It is after all, still the last tree. 

I would I would certainly purchase this book for my school library. The possibilities for its use in different units are endless. 

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