Harriet Ziefert, , illus. by Robert Wurzberg. . Blue Apple, $15.95 (40pp) ISBN 978-1-59354-063-0

Young Emma, who narrates this understated story, has three best friends "when I'm in the city. But when I'm in the country my best friends are Grandpa and the big tree that lives on his farm." (Three prepossessing chickens and a Scottie named Sammy play the roles of best supporting pals.) She visits her grandfather every summer for a month and, while it may not seem that Grandpa and the tree have much in common in terms of companionship, Ziefert (Rockheads ) makes a convincing case that both are reassuring, steady presences in Emma's life, inspiring her to play and explore. "Birds argue. I listen. Squirrels play. I watch. Bugs crawl. I collect," says the narrator. When lightning fells the tree, Emma is crushed. But Grandpa shows his mettle, skillfully wielding a chain saw to save the best part—the portion of the trunk with a hole big enough to accommodate Emma, the chickens and Sammy. First-time children's book artist Wurzberg's delicate watercolors, rendered in muted greens and browns, are never showy in their observational power, yet they deftly plumb the emotional depths of the spare text. Sprightly soupçons of cartooning keep the mood light: Grandpa's tractor headlights resemble eyeballs, while the chicken trio functions as a wattled, slightly addle-brained and always giggle-worthy Greek chorus. Ages 4-8. (Sept.)