Alison James and Jennifer K. Mann’s inversion of The Giving Tree begins with a nod to Shel Silverstein’s enduring, controversial classic: “Once there was a tree who was very lonely.” Things change when a distressed girl named Rosemary rushes, in tears, across the field to the sugar maple. Children at the nearby school have hurt her feelings, and Maple offers her friendship. Their bond deepens as Rosemary visits daily; she even plants some maple seeds beneath her friend’s branches.
When Rosemary suddenly stops visiting, Maple grieves, but as seasons and years pass, she manages to bloom and grow anyway. The eager saplings shooting up under Maple’s brilliant leaves also mature. Finally, Rosemary returns, now a grown woman, to tell Maple that she’s become a teacher at the school. She hangs a swing from one of Maple’s branches and introduces her students to her old friend. In the end, we see Rosemary as an older woman, her dark hair white with age. She settles next to Maple with a book and, beneath the sheltering leaves, reads aloud to the tree.
With touching emotional authenticity, Maple & Rosemary explores the bonds of friendship and the promises it entails. James portrays conversations between Rosemary and Maple in straightforward dialogue, as though Maple is actually speaking and Rosemary can understand her. When Rosemary’s visits cease, James writes that Maple “ached with loneliness,” because “once you have a friend, you know what you are missing when they are gone.”
Mann’s artwork seamlessly complements James’ vivid text. When we first meet Rosemary, James describes her from Maple’s perspective as something “raining from its eyes” and moving “bright and fast like a shooting star.” Mann brings the story to the page with lush landscapes filled with greens of every shade. She captures Maple beautifully throughout the seasons, and her occasional use of panels expertly progresses the pacing as needed. “Leaves bloomed, burned, then fell,” we read as Mann depicts pink-tipped buds, then verdant green leaves and finally the fiery reds of autumn.
This tender story is essential reading for tree-whisperers everywhere.