Run away to Granny’s house, where the fields are vast and grassy and the pecan tree is old and tall and perfect for climbing. But before we can do that, a girl named Nell must bury a seed in a pot. Before we can find out how high we can climb in that pecan tree, Nell must water a sprout. Before we can discover “a nest filled with eggs” and witness “three chicks hatching free,” Nell must ensure that her potted seedling gets plenty of sunlight. And before we can find treasures (“a long strip of bark / and a shell / and a stone / and a leaf flecked with holes”), Nell must plant her tree in the ground.
In Nell Plants a Tree, author Anne Wynter draws on many of the techniques that made her debut picture book, Everybody in the Red Brick Building, so successful. She leverages her eye for detail to highlight the loveliest moments of a child’s day spent playing in a field, finding the ideal spot for reading at Granny’s house and baking a delicious pie with the tree’s pecans. Wynter’s prose is spare, lighting like a little blue bird on the moments that matter, and it combines with Daniel Miyares’ recognizable ink and gouache artwork to skillfully elicit the feel of a lazy summer day.
Wynter’s text travels back and forth in time, as do Miyares’ illustrations. We see, for instance, Granny pouring lemonade for her grandchildren as they all gather on her porch, then we turn the page and find a young Nell giving her sprout a drink from a metal watering can. Nell’s and Granny’s dresses are similar shades of yellow, offering a hint that the young girl and the grandmother are the same person. This becomes clear as Nell’s tree grows along with her, her children and then her grandchildren.
Text and image couldn’t be better paired than they are here. The concept underlying Nell Plants a Tree is a tricky one that would be difficult for any writer and illustrator to pull off, yet Wynter and Miyares succeed handily. Generations of readers will be inspired by this sweet story to plant seeds of their own.
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