Emily Haworth-Booth, The Last Tree

Pavilion Books, 2020, ISBN 978-1843654377

A group of friends are looking for somewhere to live. The desert is too hot, the valley too wet, the mountain too windy. Then they see the first tree. They find a beautiful forest. All summer long they enjoy its gentle breeze and dappled light. They play among the flowers and sleep on the forest floor. Winter comes, and they cut some branches for firewood. As a result, the rain comes through, so they chop down some trees to make shelters. That makes everything colder, so they chop down more trees to make houses. With fewer trees, the sun blazes down on them, so they use more wood to make porches. Now they have the perfect village. But without trees, the strong winds of autumn are a problem. They cut down the rest of the trees to make a high protective wall. Just one tiny tree remains, too small to be useful. The joyful friends are no longer joyful. They no longer play. They no longer leave their homes. They become suspicious of one another. Each family decides they need to protect their home. Each secretly sends out their children to chop down the last tree. But instead, the children play. And they tend the little tree. They tell their parents about it, but the parents don't want to see it. They just want more wood. So the children bring them planks. Only when the wind rushes into the village do the adults realise what has happened. The planks came from the wall. Through the hole they can see the last tree and the children playing around it. They remember the joy the forest used to bring. They remember they all used to be friends. So they demolish the rest of the wall, and they plant seeds and tend saplings. And they sing. And as the children grow, so does a new forest.

What an important message this picture book conveys, through its powerful text and its lively and expressive illustrations. How pertinent for our times. How significant that it's the children who find a way to solve the problems that the grown-ups have created. The climate emergency is a source of huge anxiety to children today. They need of course to understand it, but crucially they also need hope, and Emily Haworth-Booth provides it. Recommended.