84. Tree in the Trail

Tree in the Trail
written & illustrated by Holling Clancy Holling

Pages: unpaginated
Ages: 10+ (younger for read aloud)
Finished: Apr. 24, 2009
First Published: 1942
Genre: children, historical fiction
Rating: 4.5/5

Reason for Reading: read aloud to the 8yo as part of our curriculum.

First sentence:

An Indian boy and his uncle, a scout of the Kansas tribe, followed an ancient buffalo trail up a low hill.

Comments: This book follows the story of a cottonwood tree located on the Santa Fe trail somewhere past Kansas City. The story starts with a young Indian boy saving the sapling from an impending buffalo stampede by surrounding it with many rocks. Then follows the growth of the tree as it becomes a part of the Indian culture, sees the coming of the Spaniards, warring Indian tribes, the arrival of French trappers and finally the caravans that followed the Santa Fe trail.

The book is in traditional oversized picture book format but is a somewhat lengthy chapter book. Each chapter is one page long with the right hand page being a gorgeous full colour painting by Holling and the left hand side containing the text. Also on the text side, the margins have been filled with b/w line drawings, labeled diagrams and even maps to further enhance the text. The book is extremely visually pleasing, as are all Holling's books.

The story itself is wonderfully appealing. It is a slow moving story and more appreciated taken with small bites at a time. We usually read four chapters at a sitting. The 8yo absolutely loved this book and was full of questions; about the story, about words, about pictures, everything. (It helped that we have studied the time period in school.) Time is spent over each page naturally as you are drawn into the pictures that further enhance the words of the text. Each time we picked the book up the 8yo would want to go back a few pages and retell the latest events by looking at the pictures before we continued on where we had left off.

Once the middle of the book is reached the time period hits the early 1800s and we follow a caravan (and the tree!) along the Santa Fe Trail. Amazingly for a book written in 1942, there are no racial concerns to be found in the book, unless the word Indian bothers you. The only thing of note is the language of the two men leading the caravan who become main characters. The year is 1804 and when they speak, within quotes, the word "Injun" is used. Now to me, this is perfectly acceptable as men in 1804 on the Santa Fe trail would have used that word. It is only found within quotes. The author does not use the word in his narrative.

A really wonderful book! Highly recommended! I hope I get the time to read other of Holling's books to the 8yo while he's still young as I'm particularly fond of Paddle-to-the-Sea and Seabird plus we have Pagoo in the house and I've never actually read that one.


  1. I liked Holling Clancy Holling's books when I was a child, and my children have liked them, too. They've been a good supplement for geography and history and biology!


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