This summer I was both delighted and privileged to meet author/artist Andrea Spalding and her husband David in their beautiful Pender Island home. During our lovely visit over tea and gluten free chocolate cake she generously shared her story of how she came to write Solomon’s Tree.
Solomon’s Tree was written by Andrea Spalding, illustrated by Janet Wilson and created in collaboration with Tsimshian Master-Carver, Victor Reece. On a dark west coast winter night Andrea Spalding was inspired to create this heartwarming story while participating in a mask-carving workshop with Master-Carver, Victor Reece, whose work is on display in the Canadian Museum of History.
Solomon’s Tree Review
Among the beautiful cedar trees in Solomon’s yard stands a most particular Maple tree. Solomon shares a special friendship with this knobby old Maple and together they forage a deep connection by listening to each other with great love and respect.
“Hello, tree,” he whispered and stroked the rough bark.
“Hello, Solomon,” the tree rustled back.”
Illustrations are vibrant with earthy textures and harmonious tones. Using oils on both canvas and wood, Janet Wilson plays with light as the seasons change in Solomon’s yard. Rich in color and emotion, she captures Solomon’s love for the tree and the tree’s love for Solomon.
Andrea Spalding’s use of language humanizes the Maple tree. The tree speaks with Solomon in whispers, rustles, chuckles, creaks and smiles as well as showing and sharing secrets with the boy.
In spring, the maple showed him a hummingbird nest. Solomon gazed in astonishment at the fragment of woven lichen clinging to forked twig and marvelled at the tiny eggs, smaller than his little fingernail.
“You mustn’t tell,” whispered the tree.
“I promise,” Solomon whispered back.
The Tree cradles Solomon among its boughs and shows him hidden beings among the leaves and bark.
In summer the maple showed Solomon where the chrysalis hung, hidden in a crack of bark.
“Watch carefully,” whispered the tree.
“I will,” Solomon whispered back.
After a night-long battle with fierce fall winds the tree surrenders, and torn from its roots, falls to the ground. Solomon is devastated. What follows is evidence that it’s what we do with loss that matters. As his family work, to clear the fallen tree, Wilson’s illustrations show intimate gestures; a compassionate smile from his mother, his father’s reassuring hands on his shoulders and the moments when Uncle and Solomon are creating the mask together.
Father handed the last log to Solomon and took him to stand in front of Uncle.
“Would you like to see the spirit of your special tree?”
Etched into each cut of the chain saw, each carve of the hook knife, and each stroke of color with a fine paintbrush, Solomon and his uncle honour his friendship with his beloved tree by creating a mask together. The reader is on a journey with Solomon as he processes from deep loss to the celebration of friendship and the acceptance of the cycle of life.
The most moving exchange between Solomon and his tree comes near the end of the book.
When the paint was dry, Solomon oiled the mask. The wood sprang to life and smiled up at him.
“Hello, tree,” whispered Solomon.
“Hello, Solomon,” the mask whispered back.
This beautiful story is essentially about friendship, but profoundly rooted in the pages are themes of deep connections with Nature, the act of processing loss, the love and care of family and the passing on of cultural knowledge and tradition.
I can’t say enough about this book. I absolutely love it! I love reading it to children and often I get emotional during the reading. It is always in my teacher-bag and I take it into every school I enter. Solomon’s Tree needs to be in the hands and hearts of children and adults everywhere.
Andrea Spalding and the story, Solomon’s Tree
On Pender Island Andrea Spalding, along with a group of local women, gathered to create several Welcoming Poles for the local community center under the tutelage of Master-Carver, Victor Reece. This proved to be quite challenging for the new carvers so he suggested the smaller project of carving a mask as practice in preparation for carving the poles.
One evening, while the soft west-coast rain gently drizzled, Andrea stepped out of the workshop for a break from her carving and lifted her face to the rain. In that moment, she became aware of the sounds of wind and waves when suddenly some lines from Solomon’s Tree came to her. She listened to those words and thought, “Oh, there’s a story here…” Over the next two weeks, during her evening drive to and from the workshop, words for Solomon’s Tree continued to speak to her. “It was totally tied up to what I was doing” Andrea reflects. So, she stopped writing a novel she was working on and wrote, Solomon’s Tree.
*Fun Fact…look to the page where Solomon and Uncle are mask-carving in the workshop. You will see a finished mask hanging on the worktable- this is illustrator Janet Wilson’s inclusion of the mask Andrea Spalding’s made with Victor Reece!
Tsimshian Master-Carver, Victor Reece was living on Pender Island when he worked with 150 women on what was called The Bear Mother Project. The project involved carving three Welcoming Poles to be erected as the entrance of the local community hall.
Pender Islands Community Hall is a gathering place for a variety of events such as performances like concerts, plays, art exhibitions, weekend Markets and the annual Fall Fair. The beautifully carved Bear Mother Welcoming Poles greet visitors and locals at the entrance.
As none of the women had ever carved before they found the task challenging. So, Victor Reece suggested he first teach them how to carve a mask. The mask could be completed in a short period of time and the process would be great practice for their work on the larger Poles. Over the next several weeks the women would create their own mask and within the next 22 months complete the Bear Mother Welcoming Poles that stand today in the entrance of the community hall.
The Canadian Museum of History
Victor Reese’s Killerwhale Clan Helmet (Object number CMH VII-C-2368) on display in the Museum of Canadian History, located in Gatineau Quebec.
Links a few videos of the life and work of Victor Reece
Solomon’s Tree illustrator Janet Wilson website
Orca Publishing teacher guide for Solomon’s Tree
Teachers Pay Teachers (credit for the word searches on my site)