The Together Tree

S. & S./Salaam Reads. May 2023. 40p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781534462960.
PreS-Gr 2–A picture book about how one act of kindness can open up a brand-new world where all are welcome. Rumi moves across the country in the middle of the school year. The reserved, brown-skinned boy twirls a twig under a shady willow tree during recess instead of playing with the other kids. Two of his classmates tease him and another just looks on. The teasing goes too far when a boy throws a rock at Rumi that scrapes his knee. The children immediately regret it; the perpetrator retreats guiltily, while the others join Rumi under the tree where they see the fantastical world Rumi has drawn in its shade. Soon, all of the other kids at recess begin to draw, too. Instead of ostracizing the boy who threw the rock, Rumi and his new friends, in a wordless spread, invite him outside to play—together—under the same tree. Inspired by an incident her son experienced, Saeed’s latest explores bullying and the importance of intervening bystanders. The narrative uses spare language to convey so much—drama, wonder, and, sometimes, pain and misunderstanding. Pham’s art expertly works in tandem. The characters’ expressions and movements come across movingly. In the scene where a boy throws the rock, the colors seemingly drain away, leaving everyone aghast, and slowly reappear as the resolution surfaces. Even the font placement and page design add to the impact of the story.
VERDICT A tale of community that deserves a place alongside Jacqueline Woodson’s The Day You Begin and Kerascoët’s I Walk with Vanessa.

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