By Maureen Tai, 8 August 2022
In The Happiest Tree, a tender, quietly philosophical picture book (ages 3+) by Korean writer and illustrator, Hyeon-Ju Lee, a young gingko tree is planted next to a row of apartment buildings. As the tree grows taller, what it sees through the windows of the building changes. The ground floor apartment bustles with little children at piano class. Several years later, the tree discovers that its ramrod straight trunk and fan-like leaves are inspiration for the artist who lives on the second floor. By the time the tree reaches the third floor of the building, and is able to look into the Kong’s canine-filled apartment, it is seventeen years old and living its happiest days. But seasons change, as seasons must, and the tree now spends lonely hours as it continues to age. As the tree grows closer and closer to the top of the building, it wonders, what lies ahead? Through joy and sorrow, the gingko tree remains patiently resolute and quietly optimistic, arguably the best way to be, not only for a tree but for all sentient beings on this miraculous earth. The sparse, yet effective text and thoughtful, charming illustrations make this unusual picture book a keeper for any bookshelf.