The circle of death and life illustrated by Spirin

What makes a good subject for a children’s picture book?  I see so many similar books on the bookshop shelves.  Clear happy pictures, short happy stories.  “Once There Was a Tree”, written by Natalia Romanova and illustrated by Gennady Spirin,  could not be more different.  As a foretaste, here is a page number:

You can read more about Spirin at this page. He is described as being “like a magician, using his paint brush as a wand.” I hope these scans of the books do justice to his work.  I was once lucky enough to see an exhibition of his original paintings.  They are breathtaking.

“Once There Was a Tree” describes the death and resurection of an old tree.  The book starts with the grand image of the old tree’s death as it is struck by lightning.

A forester comes along and cuts it down.  Then for several pages we explore what happens to the tree stump as it gradually and gently decays.

He is quite a character with his chainsaw and cigarette:

Mosses and mushroom grow in its crevices.  Insects crawl over it, and are eaten by little birds.  A bear sharpens his claws on it.  A frog shelters in its cracks.

The story celebrates all the different life forms which benefit from the “death” of the tree, and ends with a new tree growing in the rich remains of the old one.  I’m only posting a couple of the images, there are many more.  This reminds me of the Deer God in Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke – in this film, the Deer God is both decay and death, and new life sprouting.  Death is not evil but is part of life.   “Once there was a tree”  ends with the new tree growing, and it says:

“The tree belongs to all, because it grows from the earth, that is home to all”

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. pilarcat
    Jun 13, 2009 @ 11:45:11


  2. Preston Mayhew
    Nov 05, 2010 @ 02:32:48

    The circle of death and life illustrated by Spirin June 30, 2008

    “The tree belongs to all, because it grows from the earth, that is home to all”

    Would like to use the TREE ILLUSTRATION (light brown/sienna colors)in a newsletter to family members (genealogy). Would that be possible ? Would link to your blog and give credit: MASHA DUTOIT

    Thank you, Preston Mayhew, Mackinaw City, Michigan USA

  3. mashadutoit
    Nov 05, 2010 @ 07:34:06

    Hi Preston

    Unfortunately, I dont hold copyright on these images. They reside with the artist – Nicola Spirin.

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