March 13, 2018

The Better Tree Fort

Written by Jessica Scott Kerrin
Illustrated by Qin Leng
Groundwood Books
32 pp.
Ages 4-7
March 2018

Tree houses offer children a refuge from the everyday, a place to dream and create, to escape and grow, and to be whomever they choose, imaginary or their true selves.  But imagine if the building of that tree fort and sharing of it was a shared experience between father and son.  How much better is that true fort than a castle in the sky?
From The Better Tree Fort by Jessica Scott Kerrin, illus. by Qin Leng
 When Russell and his dad move to a new house with a massive maple tree in the backyard, the child suggests they build a tree fort.  Russell’s dad is obviously not a handy man with wood and tools and it takes many trips to the lumber and hardware store and much guidance from others for him to construct the tree fort.  Though it doesn’t have the special features Russell had in his plans like a balcony, slide, skylight and basket for hauling, Russell declares it to be perfect.
From The Better Tree Fort by Jessica Scott Kerrin, illus. by Qin Leng
Then, three houses down, a construction crew marches in and constructs a larger and more elaborate tree fort with all the bells and whistles.  Russell makes the acquaintance of Warren, the boy whose father had ordered the plans and hired the crew, and is invited in to view the spectacular house in the tree.  But is it really a better tree fort than Russell’s?
From The Better Tree Fort by Jessica Scott Kerrin, illus. by Qin Leng
Jessica Scott Kerrin’s message is not really about tree forts.  It’s about relationships, specifically a father and son relationship, and how nothing–not something bigger, better, bolder–could ever compensate for that unique connection and special bond.  Russell’s dad is not the kind who would pay someone to make his son’s dreams come true.  He’s the kind who tries to do it himself, no matter how arduous the task or clumsy and unimpressive the results.  This father and son don’t need to bling out a tree fort when they can enjoy the simple pleasures of peanut butter and jam sandwiches , birding from the open window, or sleeping in bags on the floor.  Warren has no idea no much he’s missing in his “better” tree fort.

I have reviewed numerous books illustrated by Qin Leng and she continues to astound me with the astuteness of her artwork for interpreting the text.  In The Better Tree Fort, Qin Leng’s ink, watercolour and pencil crayon illustrations lend an innocence of task and purpose to the story, making the building of the fort by father for son an intimate endeavour.  The construction of Warren’s turreted tree fort lacks the tenderness of relationship.  Not surprising, when Russell’s dad acknowledges that “There will always be a better tree fort,” Russell knows that it’s his father that is the best component of all.
From The Better Tree Fort by Jessica Scott Kerrin, illus. by Qin Leng

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