This month, Dorea Klecker and Seemi Aziz explore three picturebooks that feature the theme of continuation and the complex layers in which it may be interpreted, including adaptability and change. In the coming weeks, Dorea and Seemi will discuss My Grandfather’s Coat by Jim Aylesworth and Barbara McClintock and Seven and a Half Tons of Steel by Janet Nolan and Thomas Gonzalez. The conversation begins with The Tree in the Courtyard: Looking Through Anne Frank’s Window by Jeff Gottesfeld and Peter McCarty.
DOREA: Most readers are familiar with The Diary of Anne Frank, a compilation of writings from a young girl in hiding with her family for two years during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. In The Tree In the Courtyard, author Jeff Gottesfeld provides us with a new vantage point from which to view these years of Anne’s life through the musings of a chestnut tree just outside her window, a tree that Frank notes multiple times in her diary. Where Anne’s diary ends, the tree–through its own cycle of life and death–offers readers a viewpoint from which to consider what happened afterwards and the many ways that she inspires the world to continue as she did her family.
At first take, continuation might be thought of as keeping something the same. However, continuation also means to endure and persevere. When I think of our theme through this lens, I see the many layers that this book explores. This is not just the story of keeping Anne’s memory alive through the publication of her diaries or by planting of the beloved tree’s seeds around the world, but an exploration of the complex and dynamic actions that determine whether or not something–or someone–can continue.
From where it is rooted, the tree watches Anne change from a young, lively, carefree girl who plays as she wishes to one who is worried, pale, thin and hidden out of view. The tree witnesses not only the deliberate actions of war that force families into hiding, but those which allow people to persevere: the presence of family, friends and animal companions, the power of tradition and song and the ritual of filling page after page with words. Even the tree offers what she can by making her blossoms extra bright to acknowledge the joy that can exist in the darkest of hours.
As the tree continues to live long after Anne’s life has ended, she witnesses the actions of countless strangers who visit the annex to walk, to sit, to remember and, in her final years, to work tirelessly to save her life despite her desire to die. And yet, through these many well-intended efforts of others, the tree starkly recalls how few try to save the girl. In this moment, the tree reminds the reader that silence or lack of action plays an equally important role in whether or not something can endure.
While the tree offers a compelling metaphor for endurance and perseverance, I wonder if the tree might be symbolic of the ways bystanders can witness injustices but are unwilling or unable to take action. Seemi, I’m curious as to what your initial reactions to this story are and what you believe the tree represents.
SEEMI: I agree with your points, Dorea, and add that the sepia color scheme enhances the ambience of the story, providing a necessary aging and antiquing effect, even though the tree endures before dying in 2010. The correlation to The Giving Tree is strong where it says, “the tree dropped worried leaves until she spotted the girl….” Feelings of nurturing and empathy run through the veins of this story in both the visual and the written narratives of the book like blood, feeding the sadness that is to come. It prepares the reader to endure the heartache of loss of life.
The warmth of family, friends, religion and long-enduring customs hold the characters’ lives together as one with the nature that surrounds them. This is undoubtedly a beautiful book that powerfully brings to life Anne Frank’s life and struggles.
The happiness of knowing that the tree continues to thrive and prosper in so many parts of the world provides a physical continuation to a narrative. The positive spin is what touches the hearts of the readers and provides a necessary pause.
Title: The Tree in the Courtyard: Looking Through Anne Frank’s Window
Author: Jeff Gottesfeld
Illustrator: Peter McCarty
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Date Published: March 08, 2016
This is the first installment of September 2017’s My Take/Your Take. To follow these continuing conversations, check back every Wednesday.