Tag Archive | Alvin Tresselt

Hide and Seek Fog, by Alvin Tresselt and Roger Duvoisin

Hide and Seek Fog, by Alvin Tresselt and Roger Duvoisin

Alvin Tresselt wrote beautifully about natural subjects – like snow and heat – and the way they influence the world around them. (“A Gift of the Tree” described the entire life cycle of a dying oak tree, and the way it nourishes the ground around it.) “White Snow, Bright Snow” won a Caldecott Medal for its illustrations in 1948. Sixteen years later, Tresselt tried a similar formula. But this time, his book was about fog.

“The lobsterman first saw the fog as it rolled in from the sea,” the book opens “He watched it turn off the sun-sparkle and the waves, and he saw the water turn gray.” Tresselt writes poetically about the gradually creeping cloud, describing how it turned the water gray and made the boats bob like corks. But he also writes about the people it affects, and the book lists out every reaction.

“The dampness touched the crisp white sails of the racing sailboats, and suddenly the wind left them in the middle of the race.” Seagulls, too, respond to the fog, return to nests on the craggy rocks. Vanishing into a fog bank, even the sun becomes “a pale daytime moon.” And families on the beach hurry to gather up their picnic baskets.

The illustrations are beautiful, with a bright gray that makes everything seem soft and abstract. It’s the same illustrator Tresselt used 16 years earlier on “White Snow, Bright Snow,” and those illustrations won a Caldecott medal. Roger Duvoisin uses an entirely different style for this book, and most scenes are shown through a gentle blanket of fog. But in other drawings, the colors of the city are visible, like when the lobsterman hurries his catch off the fishing wharf. And there’s a cheerful red floor when the children make scrapbooks by a warm driftwood fire.

The lobsterman hears “the mournful lost voices of the foghorns,” but he’s stuck at shore working on his lobster traps. The fathers complain that their vacations will be spent in a foggy cloud. On the streets, people with bundles accidentally bump into each other. And the children play hide-and-seek among the foggy rocks.

It’s surprising how this simple story can become so intriguing. It’s the worst fog in 20 years, and it lasts three days. But then there’s a sudden warmth in the fog, and the sun finally pierces the veil. The water sparkles again, and the islands in the bay are lit by gold. Then everything returns to normal – the lobsterman fishes, and the children play on the beach.

The Gift of the Tree by Alvin R. Tresselt

Gift of the Tree - A Dead Tree by Alvin R. Tresselt

Breathtaking watercolors by Henri Sorensen help to tell the haunting story of a dead tree. “It stood tall in the forest,” writes Alvin Tresselt. “For a hundred years or more…” The tree grew and spread its shade, and birds and other animals nested in its branches. “Squirrels made their homes in ragged bundles of sticks and leaves held high in the branches.”

The tree is impossibly old – and it’s accompanied by animals – but nature holds more surprises. “Life gnawed at its heart,” Tresselt explains, describing in turn the ants, termites, woodpeckers, and even rot-causing spores that weakened the tree. Its branches “turned grey with death” – while baby woodpeckers hatch inside. “In winter storms, one by one, the great branches broke and crashed…” Soon only the trunk is left – but it’s a “proud” trunk, reaching to the sky with “its broken arms.”

It’s a story told through beautiful illustrations by Charles Robinson which give the magic old tree an almost fanciful feeling. The purple tree trunk spreads to leaf-shaped clusters of faded blue, yellow, and green. An owl spreads the points of its wings over snowy trees and a field of greys, whites, and blues. One painting even shows a cross section of the tree’s inside, where termites “ate out passageways in wondrous patterns.”

It’s surprising how compelling this story becomes. After a fierce wind, the tree falls, leaving only “a jagged stump to mark where it had stood for so long.” It’s followed by “the cruel days of winter,” where something special happens. In its hollow stump, a rabbit finds shelter. A family of mice settle into its fallen trunk. Even the ants and grubs can hide from winter in its bark and wood. Soon the sunshine of spring returns, and young acorns began to sprout.

Now it’s chipmunks that nest in the old woodpecker holes, and raccoons in its hollow trunk. But the book also mentions the carpenter ants and the termites that will play a crucial role. Soon there’s mosses, ferns, mushrooms and lichen, and eventually centipedes, snails, slugs, and earthworms. “The years passed, and the oak-hard wood grew soft and punky.” A family of skunks appears to feed on the insects in the bark, and birds also scavenge its bark, while “the melting winter snows and soft spring rains hastened the rotting of the wood.”

On the final page, there’s a new tree growing from the soil, “And in this way…the great oak returned to the earth.” It’s not clear if that’s meant literally – decomposing into the earth itself – or reappearing among the living. But the illustration seems to supply an answer.

There’s golden yellow sunshine filling the background as the young tree sprouts its new acorns and broad green leaves.