Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Review: THE LISTENING TREE by Celia Barker Lottridge
The Great Depression was rough for farmers in the Saskatchewan Prairie like Ellen Jackson’s father. After four years of drought with no crops and no end in sight, he must leave the farm, going west to find work and support his family. Ellen and her mother must leave, too, or starve. They head to the big city of Toronto to stay with her Aunt Gladys. A shy child, Ellen is used to small town life where her best friend is the only other girl in her grade. In Toronto, she can’t possibly just go outside and meet the other children in the neighborhood like everyone expects her to. The big elm tree in front of her window becomes her solution—she can crawl into the tree, hide among the leaves and branches, and just observe the other kids for a while, getting to know them before actually meeting them. But one night while hiding in her tree, Ellen overhears two men talking and planning trouble for her next-door neighbors. She has to make a decision: stay in her comfort zone and do nothing, or step up, rising above her fear to do the right thing.
The story parallels Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. Not only is Ellen herself actually reading The Secret Garden, she thinks of her listening tree as her “secret garden,” a place of beauty that is all her own where she can be herself. By the end of The Secret Garden, the main character finds she no longer needs the garden; likewise, Ellen eventually overcomes her shyness and also finds she no longer needs the listening tree.
In addition to being a story about a young girl’s courage, the book details life during the Great Depression. It was a time where families had to separate to earn money. Men left home to find jobs to feed their families; women, who had been stay- at- home caretakers, had to go out and find jobs. Children could no longer be carefree. Older children had to stay and mind their younger siblings. For everyone, food and clothing were scarce. At one point, the only food Ellen and her mother have is oats actually meant for their horse, but the oats remain whereas they’ve had to sell the horse.
The Listening Tree depicts life during one of history’s most difficult economic times, yet it is a moving story of how good life can be especially in tough times, when you are with people who love you and whom you can trust.