The Boy Who Grew into a Tree

Written by Gary Crew, illustrated by Ross Watkins (Penguin 2012).

cover_treeboy_medThe Boy Who Grew into a Tree is a heartbreaking fable about nature and our relationship with it, and about the inevitable cycle of life.

And then, as if on cue, the baby shaped its mouth into a perfect circle, drew breath into its cheeks and, curling its tiny tongue upon its bottom lip, breathed the long soft sound of wind in the trees.

This is a tale of storms and bushfires and wild bees. A tale of an old couple and a gift from the bush. A gift they must one day return…

‘A beautifully designed and presented fable about life, loss, the force of nature and the hope of renewal. The book is a small format, with stunning graphic illustrations.’ Sunday Age


About illustrating this book:

My brother was the one who could draw. I was the writer. When I was eleven years of age our first illustrated book was turned down by a rather generous publisher who offered kind encouragement in the rejection letter. Many years later—now a self taught dabbler in graphics—illustration was still my occasional playground outside the serious classroom of my writing. That’s until Gary handed me a short story called ‘The Boy Who Grew into a Tree’, and the playground was brought indoors.

Amid the increasing digitisation of the reading experience, my aim in illustrating this mixed media graphic novel was to tell a story of ecology and humanity. A story about the collision between the environment and early printing press technology, both violent yet momentous in its creation of the artefact we know as the book. This is Arbour’s story, and ‘the book that you hold in your hand’ is a celebration of him and the book as a meaningful object.


How did I create the book?

My work in The Boy Who Grew into a Tree is mixed media, including digitally manipulated photography, scanned found objects (paperbark, leaves, pressed flowers), graphite sketches, plus reproductions of naturalist and printmaking illustrations. The stained paper was created by scanning the front page of a mouldy old drafting journal Gary had stored in his attic. I used Photoshop to ‘remove’ the ink and then accentuate its lovely weathered effects.

I worked up a complete ‘rough’ draft to present to Penguin, who instantly loved the book. Even though they didn’t know what readership it was for exactly, they too saw the potential quality in this publication. And it is a curious book – more novelty or gift line than a book for children, ultimately I designed it according to my own desired aesthetic, and could only hope that others would also appreciate its beauty and mystery. I wanted this to be a book all book lovers could take pleasure in.

Click for Teaching Notes.

Click for Penguin website.