Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Review - A Perfect Tree

A Perfect Tree
by Denise Dunham
illustrated by Samantha Wade
Date: 2018
Publisher: Capture Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book memoir
Pages: 39
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Trying to stay cheerful about her new school's 2018 Christmas exchange, DeeDee is betrayed by a cunning little girl who lies about the present with Dee-Dee's name on it. Did Evelyn steal it?

DeeDee's winter holiday becomes a downsizing nightmare when her parents move into an oh-so tiny house. Added to this, dad explains that their new house is too small to set up a holiday tree. She gets ANGRY. In DeeDee's spiral of disappointments, all is not lost! Surprises are in store when accidents happen. Find out, what all the buzz is about!

(synopsis from Goodreads)

When a book is this overtly Christian, it has to be very strong for me to like it. Sadly, this is a very weak holiday offering with problems such as incorrect and inconsistent grammar, a poor layout, a confusing narrative timeline, and lacklustre illustrations.

DeeDee moves with her family into a new house (apparently sight unseen, as even her parents are surprised by its diminutive size). She looks forward to celebrating Christmas in their new home. One day at school, the kids have a gift exchange, but DeeDee doesn't get anything (except the emergency present her teacher kept on hand). Then she finds out that their house is too small for a Christmas tree. So she prays to God, and a tiny Christmas tree blows off the back of some guy's truck. Hallelujah!

Aside from the Christian propensity to attribute everything good to God, the story didn't impress me in other ways. When DeeDee and her family move in, we only see her and her parents. Then the book talks about a dining table that seats six, and I was confused. Turns out, DeeDee has three sisters! They're not even mentioned until the ninth page. The next confusing bit came with the tree. The book says that one of the family's traditions is to hunt for a perfect tree. The illustrations show them out in the woods, doing just that. Then DeeDee talks about her memories of decorating the tree, and there's an illustration of the family with their Christmas tree. So, naturally, I assumed that the tree had been acquired and decorated. But ten pages later, Dad tells the girls they don't have room for a Christmas tree that year! The other part that could cause some confusion is the gift exchange at school. It's not really explained how it works, so when Evelyn tells DeeDee she got her a Barbie, and then Santa hands out the presents, I assumed that every kid was assigned a giftee to buy for. But Evelyn didn't buy anything, leaving DeeDee to try to be grateful for the hat and scarf her teacher gives her. (A couple of problems I see here. Maybe this was based on what really happened, but what kind of clueless teacher buys a hat and scarf as an emergency present? And why was this gift exchange not monitored more closely so horrible little brats like Evelyn couldn't torment the kids they didn't like?) The story ends abruptly after a tiny tree is serendipitously gained, and the reader is tossed onto a page with an author's note about God and praying.

The layout of the book isn't very good. There's one page that has what looks like placeholder text layered under the actual text (hopefully, this has been corrected in other editions), and one page's background is so busy that it's difficult to read the text at all. The illustrations themselves are kind of rough, and the characters suffer from perspective issues.

This could have been a good story about a childhood incident if the narrative hadn't been so confusing. Events and characters needed to be mentioned earlier (or just mentioned, period) for the story to have a more cohesive flow. Right now, I just have too many questions about the story that are still bothering me: Why didn't the parents know that the house they were moving their family of six into was so tiny? Why wasn't the school's gift exchange monitored more closely by the teacher? Why didn't the teacher have an age-appropriate present on hand? Why was Dad so averse to cutting the branches off a little tree to make it fit in the house (he did know the whole trunk was cut, right)? These questions are distracting, and they didn't need to be. With some tighter storytelling, most of these issues could've been resolved to make the story flow more smoothly.

Thank you to NetGalley and Capture Books for providing a digital ARC.

Premise: 3/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: 1/5
Illustrations: 1/5
Originality: 2/5

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall: 1.5 out of 5

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