Ansel and the Great Tree is an inspirational story of a young boy, a big tree, and how one person, no matter how small, can make a difference. Quang Ho spent much of 2010 working on the illustrations for the book, which was written by his mother-in-law, Rose Switzer, and is excerpted below. “I wanted the paintings to have a timeless quality that can be enjoyed by artists and children of all ages,” says Ho. In conjunction with the book’s publication, a show featuring his original artwork for Ansel and the Great Tree is on view December 21-January 4 at the Art Students League of Denver, which also hosts a book signing on December 21. To order the book, go to www.anselandthegreattree.com.
A long time ago in a far away country, there was a little boy named Ansel. Ansel lived in a tiny village at the bottom of a big hill. On the side of the hill, near the top, was a huge tree. This tree, in fact, was so very big that everyone called Ansel’s village “The Village of the Tree.”
Everyone in the village loved the Tree, but no one loved the tree more than Ansel did. He loved to hear the story of how, many years ago, long before Ansel, or his father, or his grandfather, or even his great-grandfather was born, good Father Orrick, the wise old man of the village, had planted the Tree.
“This Tree will grow big and will watch over the village,” Father Orrick said. “It will give you beautiful flowers in the springtime and will shade you from the hot sun in summer. It will give you golden, juicy fruit in autumn and will keep away the winter wind and snow. As long as even one person is left to love the Tree and care for it, the Tree will live and so will this village.”
When Father Orrick died, the villagers placed him beneath the big Tree. There, his great spirit would rest forever, to remind them of Father Orrick and his promise.
And the Tree did just as Father Orrick had said. In winter, when the wind came blowing down the mountain, the Tree sank its big roots deep into the ground. The huge branches reached up and out, swaying from side to side, to keep the cold winds and snow from racing down the hill and covering the tiny village.
In the spring, when the warm rains came, new leaves appeared, and, as if by magic, the great Tree was covered all over with beautiful white flowers. This made the people very happy. More flowers meant more fruit for the winter. The Tree was happy, too. The big roots soaked up the spring rain and stored it down deep for the hot summer ahead.
In the summer, when the sun got up very early and went to bed very late, the children played games and had picnics under the big shady branches.
In the fall, the whole village came with baskets to pick the big golden fruits. Some were eaten, some were baked into pies, and some were dried and stored for the winter. After the harvest, there was much dancing and singing. The whole village gathered under the Tree to hear again the story of old Father Orrick and visit his resting place beneath the tree.
Of all times of the year, little Ansel loved springtime the best. He loved to climb the hill and sit underneath the great Tree and smell the beautiful white flowers. “I am the happiest boy in the whole world,” Ansel would say. Sometimes, Ansel could feel the soft, leafy branches reach down and wrap around him, as if to hold him close to the big trunk. Sometimes, when the breeze rustled the leaves, Ansel was sure the Tree was talking to him. And sometimes, he thought he could hear old Father Orrick’s spirit, from far under the ground, talking to him too.
“So, little Ansel,” Father Orrick’s spirit would say. “Why do you sit here? Why are you not running about with the other boys?”
“There is no other place I want to be!” little Ansel would say. “The Tree is my very best friend.” The Tree would whisper in the breeze, “Ansel, my dear little friend.”
Father Orrick’s spirit would say, “Good little Ansel. Wise little Ansel.” Ansel would lean back against the big trunk and dream of growing up to be wise and good. His village would be proud of him, and when he was very old, with a long white beard like Father Orrick’s, they would sing songs to the little children about him too.
Then, one summer, for what seemed the longest time ever, no rain cloud came by to water the Tree. The sun got up very early just the same, shining its hot rays down upon the Tree until late evening. The poor Tree was getting quite thirsty, for it had long since used up the spring rain stored in its big roots.
A town meeting was held. The villagers decided they would have to help the Tree until the rain clouds came again. They gathered in a great line, all the way from the well in the village square, up the hill to the Tree. Buckets of water were pulled up from the well and passed, hand by hand, over the line up to the Tree. There, the cool water was poured over the dry roots.
It was very hard work, but Ansel did not mind. Each day he took his place in line, wherever he fit. He liked best of all to be at the top of the hill, where he was sure he could hear the great Tree sighing its thanks as he poured the water on it.
After several days, when no rain cloud had as yet come by, the villagers began to get tired. Some began to grumble, and some would even sneak back to rest in their cool houses. Others simply refused to get out of bed early in the morning. “How silly it is to carry buckets of water to such a big Tree,” the people complained. “After all, the Tree must have been here for one hundred years at least, and we never had to water it before. Didn’t Father Orrick say it would never die?”
Ansel began to worry. Every day, the poor Tree’s voice sounded more dry and crackly. And every day, fewer people came to the water line. “Poor Tree,” Ansel said as he poured the last bucket of water for the day on the dry roots. He patted the big trunk. “Tomorrow, I myself, shall speak to the sun.” He was anxious to try anything to help the poor Tree.”
Excerpted in December 2010