The Tree in the Courtyard is another nonfiction picture book that uses fictional elements to tell a nonfiction story. Here, the story of Anne Frank’s experience of hiding from the Nazis is told from the point-of-view of the horse chestnut tree growing in the courtyard outside her hiding place.
The story is written in the third person but it’s clearly told from the tree’s point of view. Throughout, the tree is anthropomorphized:
The tree loved the sight of her [Anne Frank].
The tree dropped worried leaves.
The tree did not understand.
With the tree looking on, we see Germans invade the Netherlands. We see the Frank family go into hiding. We see Anne write in her diary, celebrate Chanukah, and fall in love. We see soldiers swarm through the hiding place. Ultimately we see Mr. Frank return alone from a concentration camp and we see Anne Frank’s hiding place become a museum where other children visit.
I think I would have been annoyed by the tree-as-narrator device, except that the tree is thoroughly grounded in fact. There was a horse chestnut tree growing in the courtyard while the Franks hid–Anne refers to it three times in her diary, in fact. Just as the book describes, the tree really did start to die after the house become the famed Anne Frank Museum.
Many strangers came to try to save her. They injected her with medicine. They trimmed her crown and cut sprouts from her trunk. They built her a steel support and collected her seedpods like gold coins.
Despite all the experts’ efforts, the tree died. But people planted the sprouts they had harvested all over the world (the book includes a list of ten spots in the US where sprouts from the tree are growing).
Just like the girl, she [the tree] passed into history. Just like the girl, she lives on.
This moving retelling of Anne Frank’s experience is paired beautifully with sepia-toned ink drawings.
The Tree in the Courtyard: Looking Through Anne Frank’s Window by Jeff Gottesfeld, illustrated by Peter McCarty. Knopf: 2016.
Every week I participate in the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge at Kid Lit Frenzy.