Thursday, July 31, 2008
Song of the Trees by Mildred D. Taylor
Taylor, Mildred. (1975). Song of the Trees. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers, 48 pp.
Awards: New York Outstanding Book of the Year in 1975, the Council on Interracial Books Award in the African American Category
Summary: A beautifully written story about a young black girl, named Cassie Logan, living with her family in Mississippi during the depression. Food and work are both scarce and force Cassie’s father to leave the area to search for a job. Cassie is left home with her mother, Mama, Big Ma-the grandmother, and three brothers. Barely scraping by becomes impossible when the last money sent home by Papa is stolen before it arrives to them. When two white business men pressure them to sell the trees on their land, Big Mama hesitantly agrees. The deal being offered isn’t fair, but with hardly any food in the house, there isn’t much choice. Cassie is heartbroken because the trees that shelter her and sing to her each day are like family and she can’t bear to lose them. In no time, the trees begin to fall like soldiers on the battlefront mortifying Cassie and she attempts to save them. Her actions only anger the workmen and she finds herself in a dangerous situation. Papa arrives, having been summoned by Mama, just in time to save his children from harm, though not in time enough to save the beautiful trees and their songs are silenced.
Characters: I loved all the characters in this short, easy read. Mama is so quiet and serious, always worrying about how to keep the tummies of her babies full and worrying about how to keep them safe. Big Mama is strong and wise about the ways of the world. Both Mama and Big Mama demonstrate great strength and courage when they are forced to deal with the white business men. When bartering with the men, the white men grow angry, and they’re wise enough to stop before tense becomes something more. They keep their pride in check in the name of safety. The brothers play parts in the story, but their characters aren’t well developed. Cassie, however, is. Cassie is an amazing little girl. She’s smart and spunky, yet quiet and reflective. Cassie is very connected with their trees and believes they sing to her when the wind swooshes through the leaves. Her connection to nature is beautiful.
The themes in this story are poverty, racism, and growing up. Though the story is a historical piece, it still would apply to today’s students.
The plot of this story is simple and many students will be able to predict what happens but its simplicity allows us to focus on other features of the writing. When I read it, I noticed how beautiful the descriptions were. Taylor’s words flowed and created these images in my mind that I loved! I could feel those trees and the wind and I could hear the deathly silence once they were gone. It was very moving. I would recommend this book for fifth, sixth, and seventh graders. I’d like to read it and focus on the descriptive writing sections so that students could give that type of writing a try. Of course, it could be tied to a study on the depression era, as well as, racism. I would use it as a small group read or share passages with a whole group in a mini lesson on descriptive writing.