THE HAPPIEST TREE by Hyeon-Ju Lee is a gentle, thoughtful story narrated by a Gingko tree that arrives to a new home at ten-years-old. As the tree grows, it observes life through the windows of the building next to it, and each floor reflects a stage of growing up. Sometimes joyful, sometimes sad and lonely, the tree’s reflections are simple and philosophical.
As the tree grows, it has its first encounter with recognizing itself as a separate entity when it can peer into an artist’s studio filled with portraits of the tree. And when it grows taller still, it passes a young family, giving it “the happiest time of my life.” Taller still, and it is able to “visit” a lonely elderly woman who only has photos of her family for company. In the end, this story of growing up is the story of life, and by the end of the book, the tree feels a part of the world and is at peace with its place in it.
Children will enjoy the illustrations that accompany the story. As with the text, the images have carefully chosen details and they reveal a simple depth that young readers will both relate to and enjoy discovering. With lots of animals, repeated images, and people of all ages depicted, there are many opportunities for discussion and interactive reading.
Review by Kristin Wald