Updated: Feb 26
One of my favorite literary genres are folk tales. I remember studying them when I was in second and third grade. I had one of the best literature teachers in the state, and she was able to effectively convey just how fascinating these tales are.
Folk tales are stories that are passed down through oral tradition. They span generations and are usually a reflection of a particular culture. Daniel Boone, Pecos Bill, Slue-Foot Sue; these are just a few of the captivating folk tales that have stolen the hearts of generations. It seems that these tales have lost a great deal of popularity as of late, which I think is a real shame, because these stories can teach readers so much about the prevailing ethos during a set time period, and in the end, they always aim to teach a lesson.
As we approach Thanksgiving, I thought I would focus this week’s articles on uplifting stories; tales of gratitude and reflection. We kick off this week of thanks with The Tale of Three Trees. Keep in mind that folk tales are rooted in oral tradition, so we never really know who the original author is. The folk tales we read today are retellings. The version I am reviewing today was written by Angela Elwell Hunt. The illustrations were done by Tim Jonke, and I have included this on my Young Readers Guide (I always mark these with an asterisk next to the title), because it is a simple read with a message that will resonate with them into adulthood.
Folk tales are excellent for second graders, and can be enjoyed by your young readers all the way through middle school. The Tale of Three Trees; however, is best enjoyed by early elementary readers, and it is an excellent book to read before bed, or perhaps sitting by the fire, after having enjoyed your Thanksgiving meal.
The tale follows three little trees who each have dreams of what they want to be when they grow up. The first tree dreams of being made into a treasure chest. He wishes to hold the greatest treasures in the world. The second tree dreams of being a strong sailing ship, and the third tree wants to stand tall on a mountaintop. She wants people to look up at her and think of God every time they see her as they raise their eyes to heaven.
Years passed and the trees grew very tall. The time for them to be chopped down and transformed had come, but things didn’t turn out as they had imagined. The first tree was taken to a carpenter, but he was fashioned into a feeding box for farm animals. The second tree was taken to a shipyard, but he was fashioned into a small shipping boat, a far cry from the strong sailing ship he dreamed of becoming. The third tree was taken to a woodcutter, but was simply cut into strong beams and then thrown in the lumberyard.
“What happened?” she asked
“All I ever wanted to do was stay on the mountaintop
And point to God.”
The third tree was sad and disappointed that she hadn’t gotten what she asked for, that she hadn’t become who she wanted so badly to be.
The years continued to pass, and with each passing day, the trees drifted further from their dreams. The first tree had all but forgotten his dream of carrying treasure when one starry night, a young woman arrived with a baby in her arms. Her husband was desperately searching for a cradle, but the young mom saw the smooth and sturdy feeding box and told him,
“This manger is beautiful.”
The first little tree now held the baby who would grow up to be the Savior, “and suddenly the first tree knew he was holding the greatest treasure in the world.”
Many years later, about a dozen tired, traveling men crowded an old fishing boat, formerly known as the second tree. A terrible storm passed through, and the tree was terrified. He knew he wasn’t strong enough to carry the passengers through the treacherous storm, but then one of the men stood and reached out his hand. “Peace,” he said, and the storm quickly dissipated. The second little tree realized that he was strong because he was carrying the King of Heaven and Earth.
Several years after that, on what is now referred to as Good Friday, the third tree was finally yanked out of obscurity. Her beams were taken from the woodpile and she was carried by a man through the streets. This made her sad; however, because passerbys were not staring at her and thinking of God. They were looking on as she was carried by a humiliated man who was being jeered at and spit at and whipped for miles and miles until he reached a mountaintop. Once they arrived to this mountaintop, he was nailed to her, making her feel “ugly and harsh and cruel.”
But as folktales always teach us a lesson, things were not as awful as they seemed.
“On Sunday morning,
When the sun rose
And the Earth trembled with joy beneath her,
The third tree knew that God’s love
Had changed everything.”
The third little tree stood tall on a mountaintop, and now, “every time people thought of ‘her’, they would think of God.”
In the end, each tree got what they wished for, just not in the way they had originally expected. This tale reminds us of several things. It reminds us that just because things don’t turn out exactly as we imagined, doesn’t mean that what we have is any less amazing than what we wished for. Often times; in fact, it’s better.
Lastly, we are reminded that in the end, God’s plans are always better than our own. This tale reminds us to put our trust in something greater than ourselves, and to have faith that things will fall into place exactly as they should. You may not see it now, but you are exactly where you need to be. Be thankful for what you have and where you are. You never know whose life you may touch because of your current circumstance.