It's the spring of 2016, which means that my first picture book has just launched to the universe. It is THE TREE IN THE COURTYARD, from Knopf, and illustrated by the celebrated and talented Peter McCarty. At a time when fierce debate rages about the best way that books can introduce children to difficult periods of history, this life-affirming telling of Anne Frank's story from the perspective of the majestic horse chestnut tree in the courtyard behind the Secret Annex is the perfect way to bring children to one of the most trying, shameful, and emotional times of human existence.
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.
Anne references the tree three times in her diary. The tree survived until it came down in a storm in 2010. Then, scientists managed to sprout some of its seed pods, and graft seedlings from the shattered trunk. These have now been planted all over the world. There are Anne Frank trees, as these trees are known, at 11 American locations including Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas; Capitol Hill; the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, and the Southern Cayuga School District in Aurora, New York, home of the Harriet Tubman home and the Women's Rights National Historic Park. There are more Anne Frank trees around the world.
Of the book, Booklist says, in a starred review that appeared in February:
"With subtlety, Gottesfeld tells Anne Frank's story from the perspective of the glorious horse chestnut tree that grew outside Anne's father's factory and stretched up to the annex atticf where her family and others were hidden. Given the narrative's point of view, the most disturbing details of WWII and the Holocaust are not elaborated on, maintaining a gentle detachment that makes the dramatic episode appropriate fort the youngest of students....Haunting and deeeply affecting, this take on Anne Frank's iconic story will be one readers won't easily forget." -- Jeanne McDermott
There's a starred review coming from School Library Journal that appeared in early April that says: "Beginning with a quote from Anne’s famous diary describing “the bare chestnut tree glistening with dew,” the spare text and delicate illustrations create a moving and powerful ode to the tree that gave Anne comfort and hope during the years she and her family hid from the Nazis. A noteworthy and highly recommended introduction to a difficult and significant topic." –Teri Markson, Los Angeles Public Library
And Publishers Weekly says, in a review that came out in early March:
"Writing with a quiet lyricism, Gottesfeld portrays the tree as never understanding why the family has to stay inside, or the forces that swept them away, which makes it a poignant surrogate for readers who are themselves coming to grips with happened to Anne and all the Jews who perished in the Holocaust."
If you'd like to read the starred review from Booklist, follow this link: http://www.booklistonline.com/The-Tree-in-the-Courtyard-Looking-through-Anne-Frank-s-Window-Jeff-Gottesfeld/pid=7832138