Books about happy homes speak to our need for security, love, generosity and kindness. Books about happy homes that are different to our own also offer the comforting idea that in the midst of tremendous diversity, there is more that connects us than separates us.
The Tree does all of that while extending those same ideas, thoughts and feelings to the natural environment and animals.
It’s a deceptively simple story—51 words and not a verb among them—that leaves plenty of room for personal experience to become part of the narrative. As readers impute silent emotions, actions and thoughts to the various characters, they become integral to the story. And, because it is a story of compassion, flexibility and positive action, that’s a good place to be.
In more words than the original story, here’s what happens:
A tree, which is home to birds, squirrels, rabbits and owls, grows on a block of land that's up for sale.
The land is bought by a family who are expecting a child; they have grand plans that involve cutting down the tree and building a McMansion style house,
but they reconsider when they notice that the tree is already inhabited.
The family adjust their plans—taking the wildlife into account—and end up creating a home that dreams are made of for themselves, as well as better places for the animals to live in.
It’s charming, thought provoking and inspiring.
A few talking points from this book:
It’s one of modern life’s most vexing parental issues. Raising children who are able to enjoy the many educational and life opportunities afforded by twenty-first century life while keeping them sheltered from rampant consumerism that threatens to overpower a child’s better angels is a tricky balancing act. The adults in this story model the path from embracing the societal ideal (of a grand house in this case) to finding their own path that speaks to the life they want and cares for the environment of which they are part—in this case that path begins with awareness.
We know we each have a role to play, but it’s often easy to imagine someone else is taking care of the big picture through legislation, social awareness or corporate policy.
This story is about doing what we can. The man and woman in the story could have relocated the wildlife or ignored their plight knowing there are more squirrels, birds and owls, and more trees. But they choose to do what they can, and the result is as beautiful and life enhancing for them as it is for the animals. It’s a meaningful example.
Too often competing needs are seen as dichotomous. This story acts as a thoughtful fable about finding synergistic ways to meet all needs. In this case it’s the competing needs of humans and animals, but the story works well as a fable about any competing needs—even duelling siblings.
Reading this story aloud is easy—the few words are saturated with meaning and the story flows readily—but it’s worth taking it slowly to leave time for individual thoughts.
After a couple of straight-through readings, it might be interesting to compare thoughts: what do you each imagine the family think when they first encounter ‘the terrible surprise’, and so on. By extending the story, it is so much easier to recognise our own homes and see our own connections to the ‘happy home’ the people, birds and animals all share in the end.
That happy home promises security, love, generosity and kindness for all. It connects the people and the animals and reminds us to seek those same diverse connections, with animals, and with people. Just 51 words elevate our thinking and leave us with a sense of hope.