Title: The Tree in the Courtyard, Looking Through Anne Frank’s Window
Written by: Jeff Gottesfeld
Illustrated by: Peter McCarty
Random House/Knopf, 2016, fiction
Suitable for ages: 5-8 (I would recommend 8-11)
Themes/topics: caring, tolerance, Holocaust, trees, WWII
Opening: The story opens with a quote from Anne Frank about the tree outside her window. Following the quote:
The tree in the courtyard lived for 172 years. She was a horse chestnut. Her leaves were green stars; her flowers foaming cones of white and pink. Each fall, she let spiky seedpods clatter to earth. In winter, her bare boughs etched a lattice against the pale blue sky.
This is the story of the tree outside Anne Frank’s window. The tree watches the girl in the window who writes in her diary day after day. It witnesses the arrival of war, the departure of her and her family when they are taken away, and the return of her father. At the end of the tree’s life, the seeds are planted throughout the world as a symbol of peace.
Activities and Resources:
Plant a tree in honor of someone.
Research to see if there is an “historical tree” in your area.
Most Holocaust activities and resources are for an older age group. Number the Stars (ages 10-14) is excellent. For younger children – lessons on caring and tolerance.
For older readers, it would be a wonderful book to use in practicing inferencing.
Why I like this book:
By using the point of view of the chestnut tree, the narrator pulls back from the personal challenges and grief that we find in Anne’s personal story and takes sort of a “world watching” perspective. The gentle and moving narrative weaves a thread of nature’s beauty throughout, serving as a contrast to the actions of humans. My favorite part is near the end: “By the end of the century, the tree had lived a full life. She was ready to die. Many strangers came to try to save her…The tree recalled how few had tried to save the girl.” Powerful stuff. The story ends on a positive note of remembrance through the planting of the chestnut’s seeds. Gorgeous pen and ink illustrations enhance this extremely well-crafted story.
Knowing the story of Anne Frank, my mind brings a great amount of context to the story. It would be interesting to hear the thoughts of a child who doesn’t have that context, given that there’s no naming of characters or specifics on what’s happening. I imagine many questions will arise which are difficult to answer for the younger end of the recommended age range.
While some might question the personification of the tree, it worked for The Giving Tree.
Visit author Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books for a plethora of picture books listed by title and topic/theme, each with teacher/parent resources.