Allison's Book Bag

Song of the Trees by Mildred Taylor

Posted on: June 2, 2012

Sometimes I think I am a difficult book reviewer to please. One minute, I fault an author for leaving too many loose ends. The next minute, I fault an author for tying together too many of those loose ends. Yet the longer I review books, the more I feel that writing a good book is like catching lightning in a bottle. Song of the Trees by Mildred Taylor is an excellent example of a story that could have been composed wrongly in so many ways. It is the sign of a truly talented author that Mildred Taylor gets it right.

On its simplest level, Song of the Trees by Mildred Taylor is about a place that is special to Cassie Logan. The family’s land is partially-forested and this forest surrounds their house in a strong and sheltering way. The trees whisper a song of greeting every morning to Cassie. When Cassie is playing with her siblings, she likes to shout back a response. Stacey, her older brother, protests that it’s just the wind she hears but Cassie knows different. When she plays tag with her clan of siblings, the trees even seem to tap her with their lower branches. But, one day as the Logan children race through the forest, the trees don’t join in their laughter. Instead, they respond with an uneasy silence. This is when Cassie notices the huge white X’s on the oldest trees. When she overhears two white men, she realizes with horror that the family’s beloved trees are slated to be cut down.

In some ways, Song of the Trees is not an original story. Many feel-good ecological tales have been told (and will continue to be told) about the fight to save some piece of land for one reason or another. It’s the way Taylor composes Song of The Trees that is original. For one thing, despite their protest, the children are not able to stop the destruction. Instead they have to endure three days of listening “to the foreign sounds of steel against the trees and the thunderous roar of those ancient loved ones as they crashed upon the earth”. Taylor writes in its preface that Song of the Trees is based on a true incident and that her father’s description of the giant trees, the coming of the lumberman, and the aftermath made her feel as if she were present. She hopes that her readers will be as moved by the story as she was. At least with this reader, she succeeded. As she poetically described the quiet of the forest with its now-open spaces, I found myself reflecting upon the woods which are nearby my hometown and hoping that I never see their demise.

I also like how realistically the Logan children react. At first, they simply mutter their complaints around the adults who are discussing the sale of the trees. However, as the days drag on and the devastation of the Logan land seems endless, the children become curious. They venture onto the trails which used to be lined with their trees. When ordered by a lumberman to go home, they refuse and things quickly get out of hand. Unlike in many feel-good ecological tales, the Logans aren’t crafty children who have concocted clever plans to save their world. Basically, they’re just average kids whose world is being stripped away from them. Unfortunately, they’re also black kids in the 1930’s who are defying white adults. And that can be a dangerous combination.

Even in her conclusion, Taylor weaves an elegant balance. On one level, Song of the Trees is about seeing the wrongful destruction of a place one loves. There’s even a deeper level, one which Taylor instills in all her stories of the Logan family, which is the value of self-respect. Taylor has the benefit of being able to tap into her family’s own history, but many auto-biographical novels have failed to invoke the proper emotional tone. Taylor always does, which is why I keep reading her books.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

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