Review of The Tree and the River

The Tree and the River The Tree and the River
by Aaron Becker; illus. by the author
Primary    Candlewick    32 pp.
3/23    9781536223293    $18.99

Becker explores many big ideas—­including war, humanity’s impact on the environment, and the resilience of nature over time—through a science-fiction lens. The wordless narrative focuses on an idyllic forested valley split by a river. Multiple double-page spreads depict the river across an undefined span of time and chronicle the relationship between two groups, one on either side of the river: an agricultural-leaning society shown in red clothing and a blue-clad industrialized community. The river is diverted, varying forms of infrastructure (from thatched-roof buildings to futuristic skylines) are built and razed, and conflicts arise between the neighboring factions; a single tree remains a constant presence, even after an environmental disaster leaves the land uninhabitable. Becker then shifts the view to a more intimate and hopeful series of panels to reveal the now-deteriorating tree releasing an acorn into the river, setting into motion the process for new life to begin. The pencil, gouache, and digitally painted illustrations are imaginative, precise, and enigmatic. As with Journey (rev. 9/13) and sequels, Becker’s world-building feels cinematic thanks to his dramatic use of color and light. This picture book is sure to spark much discussion regarding humanity’s relationships with and responsibilities toward one another and the natural world.

From the March/April 2023 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Patrick Gall
Patrick Gall works as a librarian for children in preschool through eighth grade at the Catherine Cook School in Chicago.

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