Twenty-five years . . . wow. Most picture books quietly fade into oblivion after a few years, but Trees is still continuing to touch readers’ hearts. I never dreamed God would use it in this way, so maybe I should have paid more attention to the meaning of the story . . .
I’m often asked about the source of the folk tale. In the book’s epigraph I express my appreciation to the “unknown originator,” but I think I may have discovered whom that originator is . . . or at least who was the first to write it down.
Before writing The Tale of Three Trees, I had heard several variations of the tale—including a moving musical version by Derric Johnson and another retelling in my children’s home school curriculum.
But picture books have a certain blueprint, and I was writing mostly picture books at the time. So I set out to make a few tweaks to tell the story in a unique way. I’d always heard that the second tree wanted to be part of a king’s palace, but I preferred the small size of a treasure chest. I also wanted to stress the concepts of beauty and strength, since I had a little boy and a little girl and wanted them to realize that those qualities shouldn’t be the focus of their lives. And my wonderful editor, LaVonne Neff, suggested that we make the third tree feminine.
In 1997, a woman sent me a copy of Helen Frazee-Bower’s short story, “God’s Trees,” from a book published in 1958. It was a different and longer version of the tale, and I wondered if it could be the original. But a few years ago I tracked down a copy of Stories I Love to Tell by Gladys Mary Talbot, a collection published in 1949. I still don’t know if Mrs. Talbot wrote the tale or only recorded a story she used in the art of storytelling, but I’m grateful she recorded the tale for future generations.
Other versions of the story have been published over the years, and the tale continues to reverberate in hearts and minds. Brad and Jennifer McClam have named their home “Three Trees Cabin.” In Holland Michigan, Three Threes Hardwood Distributors is thriving. “Just as in the book,” owner Rick Klaasen told a reporter from the Holland Sentinel, “our philosophy is turning the ordinary into the extraordinary.”
As a result of the book’s influence, Woburn United Methodist Church has installed three stained glass windows that depict the baby in the manger-treasure chest, the king-carrying ship, and the third-tree cross.
All across the world, the Spirit of God is still touching the hearts of men, women, and children with this simple book. I am grateful, but to Him be the glory and honor and praise.