I think most adults can tell you where they were twenty years ago on 11 September 2001. I was living in upstate New York at the time, but my first career, in the mid and late 1980s, was on Wall Street in lower Manhattan. My husband and I commuted by train from suburban New Jersey, arriving each morning to the bowels of the Trade Center, riding a long escalator to ground level, and then walking to our offices.
On 9/11, I thought back to our neighbors and friends who commuted with us, some of whom brought babies and toddlers to a wonderful day care center in the area. Many of our former colleagues still worked in the area (thankfully, no one we knew was in the Towers that day, although some witnessed the tragedy first hand). So when I saw this new picture book, I knew I had to read and review it.
Title: This Very Tree: A Story of 9/11, Resilience, and Regrowth
Written & Illustrated By: Sean Rubin
Publisher/Date: Henry Holt and Company/2021
Suitable for Ages: 4-8
Themes/Topics: 9/11, World Trade Center, New York City, Survivor Tree, resilience, tragedy
In New York City there once stood two towers. For a time, they were the tallest buildings in the world. Below the towers was a busy plaza.
That’s where I was planted.
Brief Synopsis: A pear tree that had lived on the plaza between the twin towers of the World Trade Center describes 9/11 and lives to experience the rebirth that followed.
Links to Resources:
- Learn more about the history of the World Trade Center, 9/11, and the Survivor Tree in the back matter;
- Read E.B. White’s lines quoted from Here is New York (1949) about This Very Tree that must be saved (appears as a foreword). Why do you think E.B. White thought a particular willow tree was worthy of saving? Why do you think the pear tree from the World Trade Center plaza was worth saving?
- Do you have a favorite tree or other plant? What is it about that plant that you like? Draw a picture of that tree or plant.
Why I Like this Book:
Told from the point-of-view of a Callery pear tree, This Very Tree recounts the story of the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York City and the rebirth of the surrounding area afterwards. Because of the large loss of life, the horror of the circumstances, and the feelings of vulnerability and distrust that followed, the 9/11 attacks are perhaps the most difficult of topics for a picture book. But by focusing on a tree, a tree that survived the attacks, thrived afterwards, and returned to the very plaza to offer solace and hope, I think Rubin has rendered this tragedy accessible to kids.
I love how Rubin includes so many natural features in the illustrations. Birds flit in and out of many spreads, including a dove that nested in the tree’s branches that first spring after the attacks. I also love how Rubin juxtaposes the regrowth of the tree with the building of the Freedom Tower. And when the tree returns to the newly rebuilt plaza, it isn’t the only tree gracing the concrete plaza. Rather, it’s surrounded by a forest of other trees, there to help this tree feel stronger and less afraid.
By sharing the tree’s thoughts and fears, Rubin casts the tree in the role of a trauma survivor. It voices the emotions that all of us feel when we think about 9/11, which, I think, will help adults who experienced this tragedy discuss it with children. That the story ends with the reminder that the tree’s blossoms signal spring’s arrival enables us to feel hopeful, that a tragedy like this never occurs again.
A Note about Craft:
As someone who reviews many picture books dealing with difficult topics, I’m always interested to figure out how authors and illustrators depict tragic events without terrifying children or leaving them feeling hopeless. By focusing on a tree that survived the destruction of the towers and still graces the plaza at the new 9/11 Memorial, I think Rubin manages to turn this story of a tragedy to one focused on rebirth and hope.
This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!