September is a month of beginnings, school and fall come to mind; endings, summer with its carefree, shoe-free, sunshiny days; and remembering, those who labor and those we’ve lost, either personally or in the unfathomable horror that is seared into our hearts and divides time into pre-9/11, post-9/11 worlds. For today’s Perfect Picture Book, I’ve chosen a book that helps us remember another unfathomable horror and reminds us of the hope that can endure tragedy.
Title: The Tree in the Window: Looking through Anne Frank’s Window
Written By: Jeff Gottesfeld
Illustrated By: Peter McCarty
Publisher/date: Alfred A. Knopf (Random House)/2016
Suitable for Ages: 5-8
Themes/Topics: History, World War II, Anne Frank, Holocaust, chestnut tree, bearing witness
Opening: “The tree in the courtyard lived for 172 years. She was a horse chestnut. Her leaves were green stars; her flowers foaming cones of white and pink.”
Brief Synopsis: The Tree in the Window is the biography of a tree that grew in the courtyard outside the attic where Anne Frank and her family hid from the Nazis.
Links to Resources:
- Color a horse chestnut tree
- Plant a tree to mark a special occasion or in honor/remembrance of a special person
- Learn about children during the Holocaust
- Learn more about Anne Frank
Why I Like this Book:
As Anne Frank is the “Every Child” serving as a face and bringing a narrative to the horror of the Holocaust, the tree that endured outside her window serves as the “fly on the wall,” bearing witness to Anne’s life and ultimate demise. While Anne and her family were hiding in the attic, the tree also was a source of nature, beauty and comfort for Anne. Which raises an important question to discuss with young listeners: how can we both witness suffering and bring comfort to those who suffer?
This is a gentle introduction to the Holocaust, as gentle as anything can be, that ends with a note of hope: despite her death in 2010 at age 172, saplings from the tree live on around the world, notably at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, in New York City.
A Note about Craft:
On his website, Jeff Gottesfeld writes that he first learned about the tree in a New York Times article and was drawn to its “life-affirming story.” He admits, though, that he “wasn’t sure how to tell” that story. He started a few times, struggled for a few weeks, then set it aside for two years. He returned to the story in August 2012, submitted the manuscript to his agent in November 2012, and Knopf/Random House acquired it a few weeks after that. As he shows, sometimes story ideas need to sit, to jell, before we as writers are able to write them.
Both the text and Peter McCarty’s sepia-toned illustrations imbue the story with the gravitas it deserves. Interestingly, while Anne’s story is told in its entirety, neither the author nor illustrator name the place or time period, nor do they identify the country of origin of the soldiers.
Finally, as a writer who often tackles so-called “difficult subjects,” I think The Tree in the Courtyard serves as a valuable mentor text on point-of-view. By drawing the reader and listeners outside the attic, I believe it affords some distance from a horror that is incomprehensible. As we mark the 15th anniversary of 9/11, and as books about it for even young children are being written, I can’t help wondering what point-of-view will help tell that story while providing hope in the face of overwhelming tragedy.
This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!
This sounds like a great book to introduce young children to what happened during the holocaust. I love Anne Frank and this different take on the story. Will check it out! Thank you!
I was immediately drawn to the front cover illustrations. And that the book focuses on the tree outside Anne Frank’s window, makes this a unique story. I’m looking forward to checking out this book.
Patricia…this is one of my very favorite picture books! So beautifully told! And such a powerful story! I love all of your rich resources and activities…and I appreciate the author’s backstory….he put it asie for TWO YEARS? Oh my gosh…that gives me hope for some of my stories that I’m not sure how to proceed, but think there is a kernel of something special. 😉
I love that backstory, too, Vivian. I’m just revising something I set aside 5 years ago, also dealing with a difficult subject.
Today’s PPBF choices offer a wonderful group of unusual POV’s. And this tree POV choice is so great to introduce this topic to this age group.
I can’t believe I haven’t read this yet… need to find a copy.
Beautiful choice! I will have to look for this one.