This review was first published in Resource Links Magazine, “Canada’s national journal devoted to the review and evaluation of Canadian English and French resources for children and young adults.” It appears in volume 21.2.
The Two Trees
I’m not really aware of all that is out there in picture-book-land dealing with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD); most of it seems to be aimed prescriptively at children who are actually on the spectrum. The increased incidence of ASD seems to warrant more representation, especially in books that focus on the experiences of siblings and friends of children on the spectrum.
The Two Trees is the story of Jaxon, who brings home two seedlings to plant: “One was for me. One was for my older brother.” Planted close together, Jaxon’s tree grows while Syd’s does not, until it is moved into its own space. The metaphor is not actually this obvious, although it is one of the “Questions for Readers” at the end of the book. As the story progresses, Syd’s behaviour becomes increasing possible to identify as ASD, but initially it feels too much like just bad manners. That is undoubtedly part of the point, but it could be confusing to younger readers. Syd’s ASD characteristics, and Jaxon’s responses to them, are presented in simple, understandable ways for younger readers, but I think that The Two Trees needs to be introduced as being about ASD for the story to have a successful impact.
Rereading the book after I knew Syd had ASD made it a lot easier to understand, and the complexity of the relationship between the brothers took on new meaning. These complexities are part of what initially made me question the book as suitable for younger readers, but without them it could not be an honest portrayal of ASD. Overall, Meadows does an admirable job of representing a very difficult narrative space. Syd’s characteristic rigidity is balanced by Jaxon’s learning to better interpret Syd’s behaviours and comments. The final moment, when we see that Syd’s tree has grown as tall as Jaxon’s, and Jaxon giving Syd an unsolicited (of course) hug, shows how far Jaxon has come. It is, after all, his story.