In her diary, Anne Frank tells us about a beautiful chestnut tree that grew outside of her window. This book imagines the events of Anne’s life through the tree’s lens and while doing so, we are reminded of the shock of loss and the horrors of war.
In The Tree in the Courtyard, a horse chestnut tree grows to love the young Anne Frank for her vivacious spirit. Jeff Gottesfeld gives us a very unique perspective of a very familiar and tragic moment in history. The story is very moving; when I walked away from this book, I couldn’t help but think two things 1) Anne Frank was a beautiful writer 2) What a great way to honor her spirit and help children learn not only about history but also about compassion and perspective.
The tree never fully understands exactly why war is happening but it feels and knows the effects of it (much like a child, perhaps). As it grows steadily, it connects to Anne and the occupants of the annex. It likes to watch Anne get lost in her writing and makes sure to blossom beautiful for her. But one day the occupants of the annex are suddenly taken away and only Anne’s father comes back, visibly changed. The tree is distraught. As years pass, other people occupy the annex but the tree finds irony in the fact that people put more love into its care than they did for Anne’s well-being. The symbolism of the chestnut’s saplings spreading around the world and living on, like Anne’s words, is powerful.
Peter McCarty’s illustrations fill the pages in a warm, beautiful brown. The shortened bodies with large heads and expressive faces, deep shadows and hatch marks are signature McCarty. I especially love how he illustrates Anne with her dark, soulful eyes and wispy hair and I love how he gives life to the tree; its limbs seem to stretch lovingly towards Anne and the annex. On the pages that depict soldiers and air raids, straight lines with white space are drawn harshly (like sharp blasts) while on other pages, the lines are softer and ultimately more comforting.
This picture book will surely encourage young readers to learn more about Anne. I hope teachers and parents will use this book to not only discuss Anne Frank, WWII and the Holocaust but to also teach the importance of compassion, love and hope.
Recommended for: 1st-2nd Grade and Up
Great for: Reflection, Inspiration, Brilliance, Discussion, History, Family, Relationships, Hope, Love, Peace, Judaism, World War II, Nazi Occupied Netherlands, Holocaust, Tragedy, Resilience, Anne Frank, Perspective
Book Info: The Tree in the Courtyard: Looking Through Anne Frank’s Window by Jeff Gottesfeld/Illustrated by Peter McCarty, 2016 Alfred A. Knopf (Penguin Random House), ISBN: 9780385753975