Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Tin Forest

As part of this new blog I've been picking up children's books randomly. Some of them have been okay, some of them have been terrible, and some have been completely and utterly charming. The Tin Forest by Helen Ward falls under the latter. This is one of the cutest and most interesting books that I've never heard of. I picked it up because of the illustration on the cover and brought it home to read.

The story is about a little old man who lives in the middle of a junk pit. This junk, mostly metal and mechanical rubbish stretches for miles and miles. Every day the man tries to haul away and dispose of the trash. Every night the little old man dreams of a forest filled with birds and plants and animals. And every morning he realizes that he is still surrounded by junk. So one day he decides to build himself a forest, entirely out of the scrap metal lying around. He builds trees and flowers out of tin. He builds birds and cats and other creature out of the metal. It is a forest of sorts. But real birds find the tin forest. They come and settle in the metal trees. They bring seeds and the seeds bring flowers. Trees grow. Slowly a real forest starts to grow in the tin forest. The growing forest brings in new animals. Until in the end, the little old man has the forest of his dreams.

I remember the first time I reread The Lorax as an adult and realized the powerful environmental message the book told, that had been hidden to me as child. The Tin Forest feels very much the same way to me. The environmental message along with the "follow your dreams" message are incredibly strong in this book but it doesn't overshadow the story. This is a gentle story that tells about loneliness and how struggle will make things right. The little man is beautifully illustrated to show his initial sadness, particularly when he tries to clear away the trash. The illustrations by Wayne Anderson are detailed and precise, particularly in the beginning. Perhaps it was just my interpretation but they appear to get softer and more rounded as the book goes on and the real forest grows. The words and the images blend well together and the reader actually feels like they are there in the rubbish pile and then in the tin forest.

I am shocked that I have never heard of this book particularly with the number of excellent reviews that it has gotten. The book was even turned into a play by Puppetcraft, a puppet theater company out of the UK. But the story is poignent especially now with the growing amounts of mechanical trash that we toss out each year. And the beautiful story reminds us that even in our growing dependence on electronic materials we are still always in love with nature and the forest. The tin forest is a beautiful place but it is even more beautiful with real trees and real animals. This book was a wonderful find and I look forward to adding it to my growing collection.

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