Emily Haworth-Booth’s first picture book was ‘The King Who Banned the Dark’ which dealt with the politics of people, propaganda and mis-information. In her second book, 'The Last Tree’, she turns her focus onto the issues surrounding people and the environment.
Searching for a place to live, a group of friends come across the perfect place amongst the forest trees and the lush grass. As the seasons change, the friends find their needs increase and so they begin to take from the forest. A few branches for firewood turns into shelters. Shelters turn into cabins which in turn need porches. The more they take, the more they need. As a desire to control the environment consumes the settlers they decide to build a wall. But the wall brings its own problems and as friendships fracture the community falls apart. And when the adults want to cut down the last tree it is up to the children to save the day…
The Last Tree is a powerful and thought-provoking read that will resonate strongly with many young readers who are keen to see more done to protect the natural environment. Haworth-Booth presents a community of adults who are blinded by their own needs, so much so their friendships quickly disappear as does their connection with nature. What the adults fail to realise is their own actions are causing all of the problems that they are having to find solutions for. Luckily, there are some wise children on hand to eventually help the adults see the error of their ways. If you think this all sounds a bit familiar then you are absolutely right, children of today having to try and fix the mistakes of previous generations.
The book raises issues about the importance of only taking what we need - in this case the trees are not an endless supply. The whole read feels like such an accurate reflection of the world today. We are just care-takers of the planet, it is not ours to destroy. Haworth-Booth also highlights how important it is for humans to remain connected to nature. Things really fall apart in the story when the settlers build their wall and isolate themselves. They become disconnected from nature and forget all of their traditions and how they used to enjoy singing songs and playing games when they first arrived in the forest. This transition from place of happiness and warmth when the settlers first arrived to one that is cold and lonely is incredibly powerful and emphasises the impact that nature has on well-being.
This is such a clever book that will appeal to readers of all ages. There are so many layers to the story and the illustrations that it could be read by and discussed with any child from five through to twelve. I particularly recommend it to readers of 8+ who can explore human impact on the natural environment, issues around sustainable living and the importance of human connection to nature for positive mental-health and well-being. The illustrations in natural greens, browns and blues are brilliant and many have a wonderful child-like quality to them.
A beautifully written and perfectly executed parable for our times.
Recommended for 8+.