3 out of 4 stars
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One of the first things I wonder about a children's book is what kind of art the book has, so when I learned that The Story of Autumn actually uses your own children's art, I was sold on it immediately. The Story of Autumn by Anne E. Reardon is a children's book aimed at children 6-12 years old, and instead of being professionally illustrated, it actually has blank pages with prompts for drawings that can either be done right on the pages or pasted onto them.
This story is quite long for typical children's books - just over 50 pages in total - but it tells a cute story. A small tree starts growing in a giant forest of evergreens, and they all talk about how ugly it is, joking about how it's probably a prank from the Wind to try to upset them by putting a weed near them. Besides, they say to one another, the ugly little tree will probably die within a year at most. When the tree continues to grow long after a year, they try to figure out what to do to get rid of it. One recommends they crowd it to prevent it from getting nutrients, but they still feel like the ugly tree is a practical joke and decide that even moving to crowd it would give the Wind satisfaction, so they just pretend it doesn't even exist and let it be.
It isn't until then that we learn the little tree can talk too! She's very shy and deeply offended by the words of the Evergreens, but she has never spoken to them because they've never spoken to her. A squirrel named Skippy soon befriends her and their friendship changes not only her life but the entire forest!
I found The Story of Autumn to be really sweet, and even days after finishing it I'm pleased with how well it covers bullying, friendship, kindness, and inner beauty. Even Skippy calls the little tree Ugly, not as a nickname or an insult but as her genuine name, until she gets upset and asks what her name is. As the book goes on Autumn, the name the little tree is given by Skippy when she can't come up with one of her own in an adorable scene, ends up befriending all sorts of animals. Soon they discover she's the best, most beautiful tree in the forest! Just like most good friends stick up for one another, the animals overhear the Evergreens being jerks and get revenge of their own, such as birds doing a "white flyover" (use your imagination with that one, there's even a prompt to illustrate it!). These things make Autumn laugh, but then she feels bad; she knows what it feels like to be picked on, and actually asks them not to do it. Her positivity and kindness in the face of mean, bullying trees and trying to be the best tree she can be is the perfect lesson to take away from anything that deals with bullying, and I appreciated it greatly.
Anne recommends this book for children 6-12 years old, and while I can certainly see kids at the older part of that age range reading it on their own, the younger ones will need help. In fact, for pre-teen children there are likely several concepts that you'll be explaining to them as you go unless they're big fans of trees and/or science. This makes for a great excuse to teach kids about nature along with the story, and even as an adult I'll probably never look at a maple tree the same way again!
I was surprised by what a heartfelt, sweet book this was, and really enjoyed reading it. This is also something special for children who like to draw as there are numerous prompts throughout the book of all types. I could definitely see re-reading the book to children, and at the same time having them draw new images every so often, giving them an excuse to be creative and to see how they've grown as an artist over time. It's an easy recommendation to children who can remain attentive through longer stories, especially those who are dealing with bullying, who like nature, or who love to draw. With all of this said, I'd love nothing more than to give this book a perfect 4-star rating... but unfortunately, I can't. Sadly there are numerous errors in the book, including missing letters, punctuation errors, capitalization errors and homonym usage ("good-by" instead of "good-bye", for example). I found 11 errors in total, which averages out to around one out of every five pages. With some editing this is easy to give a perfect score, but as I said, sadly I just can't do that, and my rating of Anne E. Reardon's The Story of Autumn is 3 out of 4 stars.
The Story Of Autumn
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