11 Mar / My Tree by Hope Lim, illustrated by Il Sung Na [in Shelf Awareness]
Author/illustrators Hope Lim (I Am a Bird) and Il Sung Na (The Dreamer) form an ideal #OwnVoices Korean American partnership in My Tree, which follows an immigrant child’s quest for “home.” In the backyard of the new house stands “an old tree. Tall, crooked, quiet.” Reminded of the persimmon tree that shaded the family’s porch back in Korea, the child names their arboreal companion “Plumee” for the “deep purple plums [that] dotted every branch.”
“I spent my first day in America with Plumee,” the child recalls, finding comfort in caring for her, playing in her thick branches. “Whenever I missed my home in Korea, Plumee lifted me up.” And then, during a spring windstorm, Plumee falls. “An old tree knows how to lie down when it’s time,” the grandmother tries to assure from Korea. Even lying on her side, Plumee befriends. “For days, she turned into everything [the child] wished for”: a tree house, an island, a ship … and she’s large enough to welcome the neighborhood kids to join the fun. But Plumee is breaking and when a little boy is injured – albeit slightly – Plumee must be “hauled away.” In the empty space she leaves behind, child and father create new beginnings, until the child “feel[s] right at home.”
Empathic vulnerability marks every page of Lim’s story: the challenging uprooting and hopeful replanting that define a faraway move, the tenderness of new bonds, the encouragement of childhood creativity, the joy of new growth. Co-creator Na meticulously heightens Lim’s narrative with especially affecting whimsical details. At story’s opening, for example, Na invites readers to share the child’s point of view, gazing out the back door, hands held up against the glass, greeting Plumee from a distance. The child, always accompanied by a pup, is already prepared with a small birdhouse, a gift for Plumee’s branches that will encourage avian visitors. Zoomed out slightly from the child are the parents, hard at work dealing with their moving boxes, many of them marked “FRAGILE,” a poignant reminder that their lives ahead will require gentle adjustments. Throughout, Na adds special somethings beyond the text: a birthday cake, Plumee’s remarkable transformations, the child’s artistic memorial. Lim and Na’s poignantly affecting collaboration is a reassuring homage to resilient adaptation, familial support, and unexpectedly nurturing friendships, ensuring My Tree will take root in hearts of all ages.
Shelf Talker: In perfect #OwnVoices synch, Hope Lim and Il-Sung Na introduce a young Korean immigrant who finds an ideal first friend in the large plum tree that graces the backyard of the family’s new home.