- Zee Grows a Tree by Elizabeth Rusch, illustrated by Will Hillenbrand. Candlewick Press, Somerville, Massachusetts, 2021.
“One morning, little Zee Cooper arrived in the world. The very same day, a Douglas-fir seedling emerged from the soil at Cooper’s Christmas Tree Farm.” Zee Grows a Tree, much like Butterflies Belong Here, is a fictional story packed with facts about evergreen trees. The facts are in smaller print than the storytelling on each page. Back matter has an index that challenges the reader to look up the pages, for example about seeds, branches, buds, etc.… It instructs the reader to remember to look up both kinds of words—both big and small.
As little Zee grows, her tree grows also. At first, while she is a baby, the fir tree spends its life in a nursery, where it is protected from insects, animals, and diseases. On this page Mom and baby are in a greenhouse. Mom is leaning over the seedlings with little Zee in a sling across Mom’s chest.
“After just a few years, Zee was ready to start preschool—and her tree was ready to start life outside the nursery.” While Zee is learning new things and making new friends at school, her little tree is meeting animals and experiencing changes in the weather for the first time.
On Zee’s fourth birthday her father measures her. She is smaller than the other children in her class. Her tree is small too, but she reassures it, like her father reassured her, “Don’t worry…everyone grows at different rates.”
The rest of the story marks time as Zee goes to kindergarten, first and second grade. A very hot summer with little rain causes her tree’s needles to turn brown. Some of them fall off. The author points out that on a tree farm, most farmers don’t water their trees and any damage from drought usually disappears once it starts raining again. But Zee waters her tree, even sharing her freezer pops with it.
When she turns eight, her tree is finally large enough to become a holiday tree. But the family leaves the tree in the ground and decorates it outdoors. Zee is now tall enough to reach the top.
This is a lovely book about a little girl and her special tree. The mixed media illustrations depict a family working together to nurture a very special little tree. The youngest child will delight in the story, and older readers can use the information for research.
The back matter discusses how to care for a living tree and lists other resources for further study. I would shelve this with Butterflies Belong Here in the non-fiction section of my classroom library.