Snibbles (a young hedgehog) and Big Tree are best friends and love each other very much. When Big Tree falls ill with woodworm, Snibbles is very upset and angry. The illness is a very bad one which needs lots of medical treatment, and Big Tree doesn’t feel very well. He is tired, loses his leaves and doesn’t want to play. Snibbles is keen to help Big Tree get better. He gives him hugs and kisses, wraps him up warmly and stays close by. After a long time and lots of waiting, Big Tree begins to recover.
Helps children understand and cope with long-term or life-threatening illness of a relative or friend. The story is particularly relevant to cancer treatment.
The story is quite unusual. The choice of a tree to represent a poorly loved one raises a few plot challenges (for example, the tree does not talk, so his side of the story is not really covered). However, the children we read this book with were not at all confused by the concept of a sick tree having ‘human’ medical treatment. The author has included lots of comforting words and messages of hope for children who are dealing with a life-threatening illness of a loved one. The story is particularly reflective of cancer treatment, as the tree’s treatment is similar to chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and hair loss (or leaf loss!) is touched upon. Rocia Del Moral’s mixed-media illustrations compliment the story well. There are a number of suggested activities and art projects provided in the back of the book, intended to help children process the strong emotions they may experience. Nathalie Slosse underwent cancer treatment herself when her child was just a toddler. Her challenging personal experiences have led her to provide a well-executed and much-needed resource for young children.
The messages we found in this book:
- Snibbles is frightened when he finds out Big Tree has woodworm, and doesn’t understand what it means until the doctor explains it to him.
- He experiences strong emotions – sadness, anger, fear. He lashes out at another tree, kicking its trunk: he wants to find someone to blame.
- He is scared when he sees Big Tree looking so sick. He is very keen to ‘help’ Big Tree – he wraps him in a scarf, and gives him lots of hugs.
- The doctor gently explains that while kisses and hugs are really good to help Big Tree through this challenging time, only medical treatment will get rid of the illness.
- Wise owl tells Snibbles that no-one is to blame for the illness.
- If the patient loses their hair, it will grow back (Bessie the sheep’s shaved wool made her feel naked and sad at first, but it eventually grew back).
- Big Tree has treatment which is similar to chemotherapy and radiotherapy. This is a good introduction to these processes for children.
- Big Tree has ‘surgery’ (one of his branches has to be sawn off to prevent the wood worm spreading. The large saw is shown in an illustration).
- Medical treatment can take a long time. Snibbles is given a jar full of pebbles and takes on out each day to mark the time until the treatment is over. Sometimes a person will seem to recover, but then have a relapse or need further treatment. Even when his treatment is finished, Big Tree still needs more time to recover.
- Snibbles is very loving and loyal, and is keen to care for Big Tree in any way he can. He finds the recovery process long and boring, but he waits patiently.
- Big Tree recovers from his treatment and grows strong and healthy again. The woodworm has gone (thanks to the ‘chemotherapy’ treatment), and the ‘sun’ (radiotherapy) has destroyed the woodworm eggs.
Big Tree gets better in this story, but the concept of an illness ending in the death of the patient is touched upon in the story. The badger doctor explains that some of Big Tree’s branches need to be removed, otherwise the disease will spread across Big Tree’s trunk and he may not survive that.
There are lots of suggested activities in the back of the book, including making a ‘cancer monster’ out of Lego, role playing as a doctor administering cancer treatment, and making a new crown for Big Tree.