The Better Tree Fort, by Jessica Scott Kerrin/Illustrated by Qin Leng, (March 2018, Groundwood Books), $17.95, ISBN: 9781554988631
Recommended for readers 4-8
A boy named Russell and and his dad move into their new home. Russell sees the giant maple tree in their yard as a perfect spot for a tree fort, so he and his dad set to work designing it, and – after multiple trips to the lumber store – build it together. It may not look like the tree fort in Russell’s imagination, but it is perfect. He and dad eat peanut butter and jam sandwiches in the fort, unfurl their sleeping bags for a tree fort sleepover, and enjoy each other’s company in the tree fort. When Russell sees construction workers in the yard three houses over, he realizes there’s another tree fort going up, so he heads over to meet his neighbor, a boy named Warren. Warren’s tree fort has it all: a balcony, escape slide, even electricity. After all, his dad bought the plans and paid for the builders to come build it. But all Warren can focus on is what it doesn’t have (a kitchen sink). Russell heads back home to his perfect tree fort, made with his father, for some quality time.
This is a sweet story about appreciation that makes for great reading and discussion. It’s nice to see a story about the relationship between father and son – a single dad, it would appear, from the text. They create this tree fort together, building it with their own two hands, sharing the time together. Warren and his dad – who isn’t present in the story – present a foil for readers: the dad with money but no time, and the child who doesn’t appreciate what he’s got. Russell goes home to his dad, who wants to hang out with his son, in the tree fort that they made together. The experience is what counts, not the gewgaws that make it fancy. It’s a great message to communicate to kids and parents alike: spend time together. Create together.
The ink, watercolor, and pencil crayon art uses subdued colors and perspective to tell the story: the giant, overwhelming shelves at the lumber store; the chaos of materials surrounding Russell and his dad as they try to figure out how to bring the tree fort to life; the colors of the sunset as they sit in the fort, eating sandwiches and sitting on sleeping bags. It’s a great story for a storytime and one-on-one cuddle time. Talk to your readers about appreciation, and about things they do with their grownups that they enjoy: do they cook with family? Play board games, or solve puzzles? Which tree fort did they like more, and why?
Jessica Scott Kerrin is an award-winning Canadian author who writes picture and middle grade books. You can learn more at her website. Find more of Canadian illustrator Qin Leng’s beautiful artwork (including artwork from another book I adore, Shelter) at her website.