If there’s one theme that has remained perennially popular in literature for the very young over the years, it’s environmental awareness. Stories such as Dr Seuss’ The Lorax and Oi! Get Off Our Train by John Burningham have proven to be classics of the genre, and there seems to be a few new titles on the theme for every generation. Of course, with this in mind, there is always a risk of works on this theme being tired, mawkish, or clichéd. In the hands of a veteran author such as Hiawyn Oram, however, the likelihood of this happening was hugely reduced, and Snowboy and the Last Tree Standing definitely has the potential to become a classic of the genre.
South African-born Oram is the author of over sixty books, with notable titles including Angry Arthur, Reckless Ruby and the Smarties Award-winning The Second Princess. She has also worked with a number of famous illustrators, including Satoshi Kitamura and Tony Ross, and Snowboy is her collaboration with Birgitta Sif, the author of Oliver, Where My Feet Go and Frances Dean Who Loved to Dance and Dance.
The story opens with the titular character encountering the antagonist of the story, the helpfully named Greenbackboy. Greenbackboy tells Snowboy about a game he likes to play called ‘KA-CHING’. They start in the forests by chopping down the trees, but Snowboy has his doubts, and conceals one small tree with his Cloak of Many Uses. Subsequently Greenbackboy sells all the chopped down trees for KA-CHING, as they call it, but he isn’t satisfied, and his next target is the ocean. Once again, Snowboy saves two of the fish they catch. Following a storm, which causes more damage than usual because there are no trees left to act as a barrier to the wind, Snowboy returns to the last tree and he and his friends nurture it in an attempt to make the forest grow back.
While the book’s message is not exactly subtle, it’s still an important one, and contains a surprising amount of realism for a book aimed at young children. Snowboy and the Last Tree Standing is destined to become a modern classic of its genre, and contains many lessons for the future.
Images courtesy of Walker Books, who have published Snowboy and the Last Tree Standing by Hiawyn Oram and Brigitta Sif.
Snowboy and the Last Tree Standing is out now on Walker Books.