Up in the Tree: Written and Illustrated by Margaret Atwood

From one of the most successful current Canadian authors, predominantly known for her adult novels, a picture book – published in 1978.


Margaret Atwood isn’t an illustrator and it shows. The childlike drawings are mildly quaint and whimsical though each page doesn’t hold my attention for very long. In short, it’s fairly crude.

A blurb in the front from Atwood explains the aesthetics. The book, which is exclusively written and drawn in brown, red and blue, was confined to these three colours to save on costs; otherwise it would have been too expensive to print. The whole book is also hand lettered by Margaret Atwood herself. The physical appearance of the text adds a friendly quality because it is hand drawn which does mildly compliments the illustrations. However, Atwood aptly describes her techniques and the results as “primitive.”

The picture book begins with a boy and a girl who live way up in a tree. A ladder propped against the tree has allowed them to climb up and they have decided to live there permanently. They love their tree and never want to come down.


The pair are happy up in their tree until two beavers come along and destroy their ladder. This should be the climax but because the plot is so shallow even this comes across as anticlimactic. As soon as the children are stuck they start to bemoan their situation: they hate the tree, they’re bored, scared, and they want to come down. Eventually, they are rescued by a bird who flies them down to the ground. As soon as the children’s feet touch solid ground they miss their tree.

Now we’re down on the ground,

Safe and sound, safe and sound,

And we want to climb back

To our home in the tree;

So with tables and chairs

We work hard making

S T A I R S,

So we won’t NEED a ladder

To live in our tree!

This grass is always greener is a fairly mundane topic which is redeemed, in part, when the characters decide to take their problem head on and build a ladder which will bridge the ground and the tree, allowing them access to both and eliminating the need to depend on an outside force – the ladder. This comes across fairly faintly and the ending is not thoroughly satisfying.

The text has a nice, rhythmic flow that works well, especially when read out loud. Unfortunately, in my opinion, Atwood’s many attempts at poetry during her writing career are less than impressive. This book is just that; an attempt. The book itself is pleasant but the story falls rather flat and, at the risk of sounding redundantly pejorative, the rhyme scheme is mundane.

I definitely don’t love this book. While the illustrations leave something to be desired and the text is fairly ordinary, the reading experience is enjoyable overall.

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s