March 05, 2021

I Found Hope in a Cherry Tree

Written by Jean E. Pendziwol
Illustrated by Nathalie Dion
Groundwood Books
32 pp.
Ages 3-7
September 2020

With spring on the horizon and hope finally blooming, I can't think of a better time to review Jean E. Pendziwol's latest picture book, I Found Hope in a Cherry Tree, illustrated by Montreal's Nathalie Dion.

Who needs toys when you have the natural world as a play thing and mate? First, a little girl, with her beautiful Siamese cat, finds joy in the shadows created by sunshine pouring in through a window or a skylight.
From I Found Hope in a Cherry Tree by Jean E. Pendziwol, illus. by Nathalie Dion
Though she recognizes that they might only stay around for a short time–maybe minutes, maybe days–or even disappear, she knows the shadows will always come back.

From I Found Hope in a Cherry Tree by Jean E. Pendziwol, illus. by Nathalie Dion
When the child and cat head outside where...
I can hear the wind tell stories,
to the trees
making them
laugh and sigh.
...there is new play to be had. The weather and the natural world can bring quiet stories that whisper or dance, or rush through. And when in her bed, beneath a red blanket worn as a cape, when the stories creep in to nibble her toes, she's the one to tell the stories.
Bundled up in her colourful coat, red boots, and woolens, she imagines the snowflakes as bringing the flavour of clouds, even when icy and sharp. Though everything, whether shadows, stories or snowflakes, can have a downside, there is always hope.
But the cherry tree
knows this:
it is hope in autumn
that brings
flowers in spring.
From I Found Hope in a Cherry Tree by Jean E. Pendziwol, illus. by Nathalie Dion
There may be hope in the buds of the cherry tree but it's everywhere in Jean E. Pendziwol's story. It's in the shadow that changes shape and size, and can disappear but always comes back; in the wild stories that can be tamed; and in the snowflakes that can prickle and freeze but delight. Jean E. Pendziwol makes this child's imaginative play a wholly sensory experience of insight and appreciation for her world, even when unpredictable or ambiguous. And it's the hope for better or more or even the same goodness that enriches her play.
I know that Nathalie Dion has illustrated many picture books, including French-language ones, but this is my first for review and  I Found Hope in a Cherry Tree begs me to add her to my 2021 listings of Canadian illustrators of note. (Listings were already posted in 2013, 2015, 2017 and 2019.) Her art, a mix of traditional and digital paintings, then cut, transformed and manipulated in Photoshop, has an ethereal quality to it that suggests much of the play is in the child's head, not in her feet and hands. Even in the darkness of late-night storytelling, Nathalie Dion suggests a lightness of message with a child immersed in thought and perception.

Play can be more than activity. It can be in the soul that sees beyond the doing, the now, the ephemeral. It can be in the hope of possibilities and Jean E. Pendziwol and Nathalie Dion help us see this in I Found Hope in a Cherry Tree.

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