________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 1 . . . . September 4, 2009


Bella's Tree.

Janet Russell. Illustrated by Jirina Marton.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press, 2009.
40 pp., hardcover, $19.95.
ISBN 978-0-88899-870-5.

Grades 1-4 / Ages 6-9.

Review by Christina Neigel.

*** /4

Reviewed from f&g's.


"I could get us a tree, Nan."

"Go on. Sure, you're not much bigger than an ax, let alone able to swing one."

"Not so, Nan. I am after gettin' big and strong and smart and well coordinated. You just wouldn't believe how big and strong and smart and well coordinated I am after gettin'."

"Don't worry your little head, Bella. Someone'll bring us a tree."

"But Nan, I want to get the tree. Please, please, let me get it. Tell me what to do and I'll do it perfect, I promise."

"Don't be foolish, girl. You're only a slip of a thing."



Bella's Nan was "crooked." In order to cheer her up, Bella offers to cut down a Christmas tree for her. Only after Bella's determined coaxing did Nan agree to it. On three separate outings, Bella tries to bring back the right tree only to discover that none of her choices were the "right" ones. However, Nan insists on putting the trees in the house and decorating them because she is a "sensible" woman. Bella returns with an alder, a spruce and a pine. Each time she brings home a different tree, her Nan sings her a new song to help her identify the trees. Eventually Bella returns with the right type of tree, a fir, but all of the decorations have been used. It sits in the darkness of the house, almost invisible in the presence of the decorated trees.

Internal art

     Each time Bella took a tree, she agreed to let a variety of different winter birds come to Nan's house and sing on Christmas Day. Nan was presented with a big surprise on Christmas morning when she looked on at her austere fir to see a crowd of waxwings singing their beautiful song.

     Recreating a Newfoundland dialect for her characters, Janet Russell fabricates a story that has the feel of an old folk tale. The simple plot, the careful repetition of events, intermixed with song, make Bella's Tree inviting for storytellers. Marton's illustrations capture the feeling of winter in many of the outdoor scenes and the feeling of comfort when portraying the inside of Nan's house.

     Underneath the simple story of a girl finding her grandmother the right Christmas tree to cheer her up is the story of the close bond a young girl and her grandmother share. Russell reminds her audience of the powerful role elders can play in the lives of young people, and Marton's simple and frequently beautiful images reinforce the charm of this grandmother-granddaughter relationship.


Christina Neigel is the program head for the Library and Information Technology Program at the University of the Fraser Valley in Abbotsford, BC.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
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