2016 Purple Dragonfly Book Awards: 2nd Place for Children’s Nonfiction. “The Old Man and The Tree” is the tale of two unlikely friends: a young man named Fred and a growing maple tree. When Fred purchases a home with a fledgling tree in his backyard, all he wants is some shade, but what develops is a bond between man and nature and true friendship. As the pair ages together, like the seasons, their relationship goes through changes as well. Based on author Richard Schlatter’s own experience, “The Old Man and The Tree” teaches the important lessons of loyalty and respect as they apply to friends, nature, and oneself.
“The Old Man and the Tree” is an inspirational story, based on the author’s real life experiences, which appeals to all ages. A quotation by Nelson Henderson underlies the message of “The Old Man and the Tree: ” “The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.” Fred began his lifelong friendship with a young maple tree on Applewood Lane when he was a young man. He liked the tree growing in his back yard, but wished it would grow bigger so it could provide more shade. Gradually the years went by, the tree grew, and Fred’s appreciation of his friendship with the tree grew also. The two friends grew old together. As Fred aged, he noticed that the aging maple tree had some bad habits, such as shedding helicopter seeds and leaves that he had to clean up. This work grew harder for Fred as he grew older, and finally he told the tree he would have to hire a man to cut the tree down, painful though this was to him. In the end there was only the stump, and Fred was ill with missing his friend, the old maple tree, wishing it could come back. Finally Fred found a helicopter seed from the old tree, planted it in a pot, and transplanted it in the back yard near where the old maple tree had stood. He hoped someday others would enjoy the growing tree’s shade, colorful leaves, and sweet songs of birds in its branches. Fred’s message to all readers is to make a promise: “I promise to never cut down my friends,” because saying or doing the wrong thing can end a friendship forever. “The Old Man and the Tree” has generation-spanning appeal, with its delicate realistic illustrations and heartfelt wisdom. –Children’s Bookwatch: September 2015