This book may have been written for kids but it is also appropriate for anyone who seeks inspiration and hope for a better future.
In this case, hope comes in the form of a tree.
A tree stood steel-straight and proud
at the foot of the towers that filled the sky.
It grew, mostly unnoticed,
silently marking the seasons.
The reader watches as the colors of the seasons pass—fall red, winter bare, spring petal white, and summer’s glorious green—for nearly 30 years. And then the fateful Fall of 2001….a spread that shows the twin towers with the word “………Fall” leaving a kind of vapor trail behind as it heads toward the towers. The next spread is a slurry of dust, smoke, and papers set against a corner of blue sky. It is stunning and stops my heart and breath each time I read the book. But when I reach the page showing the remnants of a tree still clutching its green leaves, I find my breath and heart, for that tiny handful of leaves contains life.
Luckily, the workers saved the tree and transported it to a place where it could recover. The process would take ten years before it was transplanted back to the site of the 9/11 Memorial. The spread showing the memorial and its “forever-filling pools” is one to linger on, taking in the depth of the tragedy.
The final spread returns to the tree and its leaves, silently marking the seasons, as trees do. The metaphor of its leaves “blazing with a million red hearts in the fall,” is a perfect ending—one that both remembers the tragic past and looks to a hopeful future.
The tree, a Callery Pear once buried in rubble, found its way back to life, and continues to serve as a source of inspiration and hope for other communities that have experienced trauma, via its seedlings that are propagated and then planted in those communities as a symbol of hope. Marcie Colleen mentions in her author’s note that the Callery Pear had reached its life expectancy, about 20 years, before 2001, and yet in its old age it revived and is still living today, an astonishing and inspiring feat that continues to create beauty and color where there had been only ash and destruction.
With an elongated vertical trim size, the book emphasizes the height of the twin towers. And Aaron Becker’s muted, but colorful illustrations range from somber to life-filled. Leaves and the changing seasonal colors play a prominent role, starting with the beginning endpapers running all the way through to the end.
Pair this book with Branches of Hope: The 9/11 Survivor Tree by Ann Magee – Although both books seek to tell the same story, how are the approaches that the two authors take different/similar? How are the illustrations different/similar?
Make your own paper survivor tree.
Use this resource guide to talk with children about 9/11.
Write a poem about a tree and hope, or a poem from the survivor tree’s point of view.
Title: Survivor Tree
Author: Marcie Colleen
Illustrator: Aaron Becker
Publisher: Little Brown
Themes: 9/11, survival, hope
Ages: Elementary school
For more perfect picture book recommendations, please visit Susanna Hill’s website.