cover image The Together Tree

The Together Tree

Aisha Saeed, illus. by LeUyen Pham. Salaam Reads, $18.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-5344-6296-0

When Rumi moves across the country, his new teacher’s request that the class make him “feel at home” goes unheeded. During recess, most of the students, shown as racially diverse, ignore Rumi, who’s portrayed with brown skin and black hair. White-presenting Asher insults him (“His shoes are ugly”), and another light-skinned student laughs. East Asian-presenting Han “didn’t think it was funny,” but says nothing. Over the next few days, Asher continues to harass Rumi, who sits alone, “twirling a twig beneath the shady old willow tree,” portrayed by Pham (Itty-Bitty Kitty-Corn) in layered scenes as a majestic bower of delicate green leaves. The escalating situation peaks with a stone thrown at Rumi, an event that pushes Han to act, precipitating a discovery about the new classmate and offering the kids a way forward. Han’s action is the fulcrum in this compassionate tale about turning bystanders into upstanders, and the move to offer solace to Rumi rather than to confront Asher offers readers another way to intervene when there is conflict. An author’s note discusses the personal seeds of this story by Saeed (Amal Unbound). Ages 4–8. Author’s agent: Taylor Martindale Kean, Full Circle Literary. Illustrator’s agent: Holly McGhee, Pippin Properties. (May)