Mildred D. Taylor Jean Fritz - Essay

Jean Fritz

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

First are the trees behind the house…. [They] are the joy of young Cassie's life—trunks to hug, leaves that sing, branches that protect. With such a forest, a girl can feel rich even though this is the Depression and money is scarce, particularly in Mississippi for black people. Cassie's father has to go clear to Louisiana to find work, and sometimes when he sends money home it is taken from the envelope before the family gets it. Still, no matter what happens, the trees sing their song, and that is a comfort.

But then come the white crosses on the trees, and the white men come….

["Song of the Trees"] is a slender book and so moving, the temptation is to tell the whole story. But the important thing is that Cassie's father, David, comes home and that we, the readers, meet him. We are not likely to forget him. He is a man who knows the full measure of his manhood.

"A black man's always gotta be ready to die," he says. "And it don't make me any difference if I die today or tomorrow. Just as long as I die right."

So at the end the white men go away (at least for a time), and part of the forest is saved. Still, the sounds of those axes ring on long after the last page of this triumphant book. And well they may, for this is a true story and truly told. A story to linger over.

Jean Fritz, "Children's Books Spring 1975: 'Song of the Trees'," in The New York Times Book Review (© by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), May 4, 1975, p. 39.