Kit, who is apprenticed to the evil blacksmith Grimshaw, is devoted to a dying tree by the smithy. While attempting to mend a gouge in the bark, inflicted during one of Grimshaw's violent outbursts, Kit is visited by the angel who planted the tree as a human girl. She forges a set of magic tools with which he may heal the tree. In the events that follow, Kit loses the tools to the blacksmith, regains them, and eventually revives the tree, only to watch it burn in a fire. A defeated Kit has his spirit uplifted when he plants fruit from the tree and learns from the angel that "renewed life is the silver thread of hope in the darkness."
This is a beautifully written story of hope. A tree is reborn and so is our hero, who refuses to relinquish his dignity and compassion in the face of unrelenting abuse. The author is perhaps excessive in his depiction of Grimshaw's evil nature. Kit's character does not require such a dire nemesis to shine. Muller's illustrations never disappoint and their vibrant, luminous quality especially complement this spiritual story of good and evil. The picture of the restored tree positively glows with a triumphant inner light. The long picture-book format of Muller's works often limits their audience, and The Angel Tree is no exception. However, its timely themes of angels and environment should widen its appeal. For Grades 2 and up.
Denise Gordon is a librarian with the Toronto Public Library.