T.A. Barron,
Tree Girl
(Philomel, 2001;
Ace, 2002)

A whimsical cover illustration by Trina Schart Hyman of a young girl, a bear and a tree gives the reader it's first glimpse of T.A. Barron's delightful children's fantasy. Beneath this cover lie magical characters, mystery, myth and great storytelling. While the title gives too much away, the story is sprinkled with an air of mysticism and fairy-tale qualities. Written for children aged 8-12 (and up, of course!), Tree Girl chronicles 9-year-old Rowanna (Anna)'s determined search to find where she came from, who her parents were and who she is.

In a cottage by the sea, Anna lives alongside a crotchety old fisherman named Master Mellwyn. Mellwyn tells Anna that he discovered her as a baby at the base of the High Willow and brought her home to live with him. However, he refuses both to tell her of her origins and to allow her to wander into the forest, warning her of the ghouls that he claims took her mother from her. Despite the stories, which Anna is unsure whether to believe, she feels a strong connection to the High Willow and yearns to stand before it.

Befriended by an eagle and a sprightly baby bear, Anna spends her days frolicking (she loves to swirl and dance) on the beach and communing with nature while she waits for Mellwyn's return on the boat. One day, heeding the Willow's call and feeling that the High Willow holds some key to finding her missing mother, Anna journeys into the forest, where she must face the ghouls and seek the answers to the questions that haunt her.

Although somewhat unevenly paced and unclearly targeted in age group, the simple tale proves a quick and enjoyable read. Tree Girl captivates with its strong voice and mystical tone, much like a Celtic fable. Strong themes ran through the story, i.e., of coming of age (although unusual, since the main character is only 9), rebelling against parents to be true to self (more of a young adult theme) and the need to combat our own fears. While predictable in plot, I found the book satisfying and reassuring (especially, as an adopted child myself).

- Rambles
written by Lynne Remick
published 8 February 2003

Buy it from Amazon.com.