Caroline Pignat’s Poetree is a departure from her previous work. It’s not that she is a stranger to poetry; her Governor General’s Literary Award winner The Gospel Truth was written in free verse, and poetry was one of the forms used to tell the story in Shooter, her most recent YA novel. While recognized for drawing complex characters in her stories, in this debut picture book, Pignat turns to simple acrostic poems to celebrate the variety and fecundity of nature.
The poems both expand on the meaning of the acrostic words and cumulatively describe the cycle of the seasons. From the seed germinating in the spring, through summer growth and fall apple harvest to a felled trunk blanketed in snow and new seeds scattered in the earth, Poetree traces the life stages of a tree.
What ties it all together are the lush jewel-toned illustrations of François Thisdale (The Stamp Collector; Missing Nimama). Many spreads foreground a tree at different phases – sometimes showing both what is above and below ground – all set against a dreamy farm landscape. To balance an earnest text, Thisdale enlivens the pages with animal life, often portrayed up close, such as a squirrel hovering over its buried nuts, teeming insect life on leaves observed by a curious raccoon, and a cat eyeing a freshly baked apple pie.
There are surprisingly few picture books of acrostic poetry. The form demands engagement and consideration as to how each poem relates to its topic word. Writing in fairly simple language, Pignat nonetheless sprinkles the text with the likes of “bunting” and “radicle” to intrigue and challenge. In combination with rich illustrations that amplify the text, Poetree is a pleasing encounter with this literary form.