‘Tree: A Little Story about Big Things’ appears simple yet offers a deeper matter for reflection. Viewers initially consider a double page spread with multiple images. There is a tiny sapling growing amidst butterflies, mice and a fox under the shade of a large tree. One night lighting strikes the larger tree and it lives no more to the dismay of the younger tree. For experienced readers, there is an allusion to humans and our beginnings and endings.
The story goes that one day ‘Delicate and frail, Tree began to grow.’ These words, and especially the images, snare the reader. Ottley’s art captures the environment in ways that bring it alive, using rich colours, striking perspectives and inquisitive animals that engage with the surrounding environment and the viewer too. The jacket cover of the hardback edition unfolds, creating a poster of the massive tree viewed from its base where mice frolic and branches reach for the sky. Families relax around the trees. They too experience their own beginnings and endings.
Underneath the book jacket is softly coloured brown paper with the short title ‘Tree’ debossed on the front. The back jacket features a large circular pattern similarly debossed. The paper dust jacket reveals multiple words running around these concentric circles reflecting humans, nature and existence. The endpapers are a plain aqua rather than a design. Astute viewers may discover that the paper jacket cover, unfolded and turned over, repeats an internal double page image of the gigantic tree that features in the book. This remarkable image stays with the viewer long after the book is closed.
‘Tree’ uses simple, yet evocative and poetic, expression. Phrases capture nature and its life cycle— ‘the drenching afternoon rain and the shaking of evening winds’ and ‘He was fragile and alone.’ Coupled here with Ottley’s rich and moving illustrations, ‘Tree’ reflects the interaction of the human and natural world.