One Tree by Christopher Cheng and illustrated by Bruce Whatley is an outstanding book about the power of one as well as the beauty, joy and memories that can be enjoyed in nature. This story highlights that one nurturing act can have such a tremendous ripple effect. One caring action may be far reaching and could also be transformational on many surprising, unexpected and welcome levels.
In this story, a young boy speaks about his beloved grandfather who lived blissfully with ten people, one dog and two goldfish in a one-bedroom house many years ago. The land, the trees and fields that surrounded the grandfather’s home brought him such joy and held many precious memories. Grandfather’s eyes would light up as he vividly recounted stories about his home on the mountain with such warmth and fondness, for example, tales of trudging through the snow to go fishing.
Grandfather had a weekly ritual of going down the mountain to the village market. It brought Grandfather great comfort that he could spot his home from the market as it was located next to the tallest tree on the mountain.
The story turns to the present where Grandfather lives with the grandson (and his family) in an apartment. This new place is devoid of trees or birds and is noisy. The sprawling, chaotic, polluted city now exists where once the village was.
Grandfather’s eyes have lost their twinkle, he no longer tells stories, he is silent and stares at an old painting of his former home on the mountain. The trips to the market in the city do not elicit the same joy and social experience that Grandfather was used to when he lived on the mountain. The city markets are busy, bustling with people and vehicles. Spotting home is impossible in a landscape where the homes seem to be carbon copies of each other and appear largely homogeneous.
While at the market, the grandson is distracted by a little shoot of green peeking through a crack in the pavement. The boy is concerned the sapling will get trampled on, so he gently removes it and carefully brings it home. He is convinced his grandfather will be able to educate him about how to care for this plant.
Grandfather feels the conditions are not right and it won’t be possible to nurture the plant. However, the grandson sets about following in his grandfather’s footsteps and practices what his grandfather had done many years ago.
Nurturing this tree sees not only a transformation in the plant, but also leads to unexpected growth and heart-warming changes, including in the Grandfather.
The detailed and stunning unique illustrations by Bruce Whatley add another layer to the story, enriching it and they are such a delight to savour. These have been created using a digital technique to create images that look like lino cut illustrations. It feels like a poignant representation of one of the themes in the book about the beauty of the old and new working together to create something magical.