This Very Tree by Sean Rubin

Hello, Sean Rubin! Welcome to Watch. Connect. Read. Thank you for stopping by to discuss This Very Tree, your poignant and hopeful picture book about a Callery pear tree that survived a tragedy. The story is told from the tree’s perspective. Did you always know the tree would tell the story?

Sean Rubin: Hi Mr. Schu! It’s an honor to be here. I think those are great words to describe This Very Tree, so thank you. I did always know the tree would tell the story. That’s partially because Christian Trimmer, my editor, had suggested it, but also because the story was so much about the experience of trauma and recovery, we knew we had to let the tree speak in her own voice.

Please share the significance of the epigraph. I returned to it a few times while reading This Very Tree.

Sean Rubin: EB White is my favorite writer, and the epigraph is from my favorite EB White essay, “Here is New York.” He wrote it in 1949, so planes he’s referring to are Nazi and/or Soviet bombers. After 9/11, people began rereading that essay and it almost seemed like he had anticipated not only what would happen, but even how we would all feel. The quote is truly remarkable for that reason—it hits you right between the eyes.

I’m really happy you returned to it a few times, Mr. Schu. That quote was fundamental to understanding not only how New Yorkers (and others!) feel about the Survivor Tree, but how we feel about our community as well. It provides a sort of emotional context for everything that follows.

What materials did you use to create the illustrations?

Sean Rubin: All the illustrations start life as pencil drawings on sturdy Bristol paper. I scan these drawings into my computer, and then edit and color them using Adobe Photoshop. In the past few years I’ve really enjoyed using Kyle Webster’s pastel and watercolor digital brushes. I paint digitally on a Wacom Cintiq 32. It’s hard to imagine, but I’ve been using a version of this process for nearly 20 years now. The tools have gotten fancier, but in the end, it’s always been: draw, scan, Photoshop!
Please finish the following sentence starters.

I hope This Very Tree creates conversations between kids and their parents, caregivers, teachers, librarians…. Not only about 9/11, but about what it means to be in any place where it’s hard to see hope at the other side. I hope it inspires kids to ask questions, and that it encourages adults to answer candidly about their memories. I hope it reminds readers that however you interpret 9/11, it is a personal tragedy first.

Empathy is why we do what we do. One of the privileges of making children’s literature is being a kind of empathy broker. I try to put myself in the shoes of an Apollo astronaut, or a girl living through the Great Depression, or even a tree, and I try to imagine, really imagine, what is feels like to be that character. Sometimes the experience can be startling—to me, anyway. It was really hard to draw one of the later illustrations, when you can see the tree’s scars. I had really grown to empathize with her, and it hurt to see her hurt.

But I try to take that experience and make a book with it, and the book becomes a sort of device to take that feeling or idea that’s in my mind, and heart, and put it in the mind and heart of the reader. So it goes from the character, to me, through the book to the reader. If I’m successful, the book worked. I’m still learning how to do it. I don’t think I’ll ever stop learning.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me if I included any hidden details in the illustrations. I wanted to convey the passage of time, from around 1970 to 2001, so we see one character grow up before our eyes in the first few spreads. You can always identify him by his orange baseball cap. He even revisits the tree in one of the final images, along with another character that may be familiar to readers of my graphic novel, Bolivar.

Thank you, Sean! Happy book birthday to This Very True

Sean Rubin was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. He is the illustrator of The Astronaut Who Painted the Moon: The True Story of Alan Bean, The Passover Guest, and the author/illustrator of the Bolivar series. In 2018, he was nominated for an Eisner Award for Bolivar. Sean graduated from Princeton University, where he met his wife, Lucy. They have two sons and live in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Borrow This Very Tree from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 


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