Quill and Quire

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If You Hold a Seed

by Elly MacKay

This touching, romantic debut, written and illustrated by Elly MacKay, presents a story about the life cycle of birth, growth, and renewal through simple text and atmospheric illustrations.

A young boy plants a seed near his home by a bay and watches, through the changing seasons and passing years, as it grows from a seedling into a sapling and then a tall tree. First providing shelter for insects and birds in its ever-lengthening limbs, the tree eventually has a branch sturdy enough for the maturing boy to rest on, his growth mirroring that of the tree. The final image depicts the boy as a young man sitting on a leafy perch with his own small son, to whom he gives a seed for planting. 

MacKay assembles her scenes with layers of parchment, tissue paper, and cut-outs of human and animal figures, then meticulously lights the scenes to create  an evocative mood and photographs them (the process is described on her website). The depth of colour and space draws the reader in, visually reinforcing the emotion in the story.

Though similar in theme to Robert Munsch’s much-adored Love You Forever, Mackay’s book could hardly be more different in presentation. The sparely written text, about waiting, hope, and fulfillment, is richly elaborated by the pictures, which show the beauty of the changing seasons, the varieties of birds perching or nesting in the tree, and the developing interests of the boy as he studies a caterpillar, romps with friends, and reads in the tree’s shade. Each page promises many rewards through repeated viewings, and the book seems destined to become a classic.