The Birthday Tree

Overview

Planting a birthday tree has enduring effects in this poignant tale of a roving boy’s link to nature — and the roots of his family’s love.

When baby Jack arrives, his father and mother plant an apple seedling to honor his birth. As Jack grows taller, so does the tree. When Jack is happy, the tree limbs stand straight and proud. When he is cold, the leaves tremble on their stems. But one day Jack’s parents awake to find his bed empty. When they see a gull perched atop the tree, ...

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Overview

Planting a birthday tree has enduring effects in this poignant tale of a roving boy’s link to nature — and the roots of his family’s love.

When baby Jack arrives, his father and mother plant an apple seedling to honor his birth. As Jack grows taller, so does the tree. When Jack is happy, the tree limbs stand straight and proud. When he is cold, the leaves tremble on their stems. But one day Jack’s parents awake to find his bed empty. When they see a gull perched atop the tree, they realize that their Jack has run away to sea. Paul Fleischman’s lyrical prose and Barry Root’s magical illustrations tell the story of a boy’s powerful connection to his family despite distance — and adds new meaning to the old custom of planting a birthday tree.

When Jack goes to sea, his parents watch as the tree planted at his birth reflects his fortunes and misfortunes.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

New art gives readers an opportunity to revisit Newbery Medalist Fleischman's (Joyful Noise) debut book, originally published in 1979 with illustrations by Marcia Sewall. The setting is a rustic past, for which Root (The Cat Who Liked Potato Soup) evokes soft hills and wide skies with calm authenticity. A sailor and a wife have lost three sons to the sea; they move far inland, build a new house and, when a new son, Jack, is born, they plant an apple tree. The tree and Jack seem eerily linked: when Jack is ill, its leaves tremble; when Jack thrives, it does, too. Years later, when Jack leaves home in the night, the health of his tree and the type of bird that nests in it inform his parents that he, too, has gone to sea. Root's vignettes of the tree, the fields beyond it and the rough-hewn furniture that waits along with the sailor and his wife for Jack's return offer comfort-until lightning strikes the tree. The quiet hopes of the parents, the russets and golds of the landscape, the vulnerability of Root's figures and Fleischman's careful writing are the antithesis of the tall tale-yet they share its mythic dimension nonetheless. Ages 4-8. (Mar.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Children's Literature - Ken and Sylvia Marantz
After the sea has taken their three sons, a sailor and his wife move far away from the alluring sound and smell of the ocean. They establish a farm. When their son Jack is born, they plant an apple seedling. As Jack grows, so does the tree. It seems to be happy, sad, and even ill when Jack is. One day, the sea calls Jack away. But the tree seems to reflect or display where Jack is and how he is doing, from its good harvest of apples and sweet cider in the fall to many blossoms in the spring. When the tree is struck by lightning, or seems thirsty, they fear for Jack. By winter, the tree seems dead. Fortunately, it recovers in the spring. Their Jack returns safely home. Root's watercolors seem to echo the text, illustrating the simple but mysterious tale. He supplies a small house with spare furnishings for the family, but invests considerable attention in the apple tree, the symbol of Jack's life. The scene of the tree struck by a brilliant flash of yellow lightning in the dark is particularly powerful, contrasting successfully with the later image. The ending is a satisfying conclusion. Reviewer: Ken and Sylvia Marantz
School Library Journal

Gr 2-4- This reissue of Fleischman's first book (1979) has all new watercolor illustrations. A sailor and his wife start life anew, making a three days' journey inland from the sea that has claimed their three sons. When another son, Jack, is born, the sailor plants a tree, and they grow together, the tree mimicking in its branches the ups and downs in young Jack's life. Despite his parents' precautions, the lure of the sea finally proves too strong, and they awake one morning to find the boy gone. The tree reveals how their son is faring: a gull at its top signals that he has reached the sea; abundant buds, leaves, and apples that he is well and happy; a lightning strike and diseased branches that he has been shipwrecked and may have died. Just when his parents are about to give up hope, the tree bursts into life, and weeks later they find Jack asleep in his bed. Spreads provide expansive views of the land and sky while the young boy's activities and the changing seasons are depicted in oval-shaped vignettes. Looking at one scene from below, viewers see a swirling black sky lit by a jagged streak of lightning that strikes the lone tree atop its hill. As Jack's situation worsens, the sky in subsequent illustrations becomes increasingly dark and menacing but brightens once again as the family is reunited. As is often the case with Fleischman's work, this story presents questions for readers to ponder, among them why Jack would disappear and turn up again without a word.-Marianne Saccardi, formerly at Norwalk Community College, CT

Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A new illustrator gives both color and more variety in the visuals to Fleischman's 1979 tale of a child who leaves but then comes back. The text is nearly unchanged. Having lost three children to the sea, a sailor and his wife pull up stakes and head inland. Settling far enough away, or so they think, they raise another son, who develops an unusual affinity with an apple tree that was planted at his birth-and, one day, disappears seaward himself. The couple is able to track the son's changing fortunes by the condition of the tree. They give up hope when it turns dry, brown and leafless, but just as they're packing up to go even further inland it revives, and they return to the house to find their son asleep in his bed. Marcia Sewell illustrated the original in monochrome swirls; like her, Root places windswept figures at some distance from the foreground and, generally, facing away from viewers. But his muted colors add lyrical touches, and he creates wider backdrops to evoke the couple's lonely isolation. This is addressed more to parents than children, but the tree's role adds a touch of magic that may appeal to younger listeners. (Picture book. 7-9, adult)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060219154
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/1/1979
  • Pages: 32

Meet the Author

Paul Fleischman won the Newbery Medal for JOYFUL NOISE: POEMS FOR TWO VOICES and a Newbery Honor for GRAVEN IMAGES. Among his award-winning picture books are SIDEWALK CIRCUS, THE ANIMAL HEDGE, and WESLANDIA. He lives in Aromas, California.

Barry Root has illustrated many books for children, including THE CAT WHO LIKED POTATO SOUP by Terry Farish. He lives in Quarryville, Pennsylvania.

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