Meet Me at the Moon Tree
252pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99
“On the thirty-first of January, 1971, Colonel Stuart Roosa flew into space aboard the Apollo 14 mission to the moon, carrying hundreds of tree seeds for an experiment to see if being in space made trees grow differently…and then he took them home and germinated them and planted them all over the world and they grew up and now they’re called moon trees.”
And on the same day that Colonel Roosa took those seeds into space. Carina’s dad was born and he always told Carina that they would find a moon tree together – they would travel the world and visit every moon tree on earth. Because the trees were magic. Apart from being the only trees on Earth whose seeds had been to the moon and back, because they had they were bursting with stardust which made them extra magical. And, according to Carina’s dad, science is about learning how the magic works.
But before they could make their round-the-world journey, even before they could move to their new home in the forests of the Otway Ranges where he was sure there would be a moon tree, her dad was stricken with acute myeloid leukaemia and died. Carina is almost crippled with grief and is determined to keep the memories of her dad alive by finding the moon tree. But, despite her scientific plan to search for it, it is not easy and is made even less so because of the attitudes of her mum and her older brother, Jack, both of whom are also grieving but expressing it in ways that a 10 year old doesn’t really only understand. As her mum pours her heart and soul into renovating their new home, Carina is convinced she is unloved now, and it’s the last straw when Jack breaks the gift she got her dad for the Christmas her mum seems determined not to celebrate. Only Gramps, who loves gardening and birds, and is desperately trying to hold the fragile family together, seems to understand but even then, he has his moments… The only highlights in this miserable, sad new life are her friendship with Betty who believes in the moon tree and Colin, a black cockatoo who seems to understand her need to reconnect with her dad somehow.
When you’re reading a book and you can either hear yourself reading it aloud to a class or you’re composing your review as you go, you know you are on to a winner that will keep you hooked till the end And so it was with this one. As an adult you can understand that each of the characters is expressing their grief in their own way, and sometimes they don’t realise the impact of their actions on those around them, but if you’re only 10 it is hard to see that bigger picture. But it is not all gloom and doom- there are elements of humour and insight as everyone is forced to adapt to this new situation, with each having to travel their own path towards healing.
As well as being a thoroughly engaging read for independent readers. it demonstrates that that path is an individual one, different for each person who travels it, and there is neither a right or wrong way or a timeline or time limit – something that will assuage the feelings of those who are also on the journey as they cope with their own loss, whatever that might be. Teachers’ notes suggest ways to explore the story in greater depth, including its use of figurative language, but it is definitely a story that could have triggers for some readers so it needs to be used judiciously by someone who knows the audience well.