I give it five stars! “The Education of Little Tree” portrays powerful life lessons through sweetly frosted narratives of a simpler life in the mountains. The beauty lies in how Forrest Carter (Asa Earl Carter) uses the removed and innocent perspective of a Native American boy learning “the way of the Cherokee” via his grandparents, to teach deeply insightful lessons on everything from the double standard of many religious folk and the meaning of true education, to how to love and be in harmony with the world around you. Aside from narrations of mountain and city-folk life during the great depression, this book held many quotable sections and one-liners, which include:
- “A man rises of his own will in the morning” (p.6)
- “’This is the Way,” [grandpa] said softly. ‘Take only what ye need...’” (p.9)
- Comparing men to the turkey: “’Since he knows everything, he won’t never look down to see what’s around him. Got his head stuck up in the air too high to learn anything.’” (p.10)
- “To [my grandparents], love and understanding was the same thing. Granma said you couldn’t love something you didn’t understand; nor could you love people, nor God, if you didn’t understand the people and God. Granpa and Granma had an understanding, and so they had a love.” (p.38)
- “Granpa said back before his time ‘kinfolks’ meant any folks that you understood and had an understanding with, so it meant ‘loved folks’. But people got selfish, and brought it down to mean just blood relatives…” (p38)
- “’If ye don’t know the past, then ye will not have a future. If ye don’t know where your people have been, then ye won’t know where your people are going.’” (p.40)
- On the physical & spiritual minds: “”Granma said that if you used the body-living mind to think greedy or mean; if you was always cuttin’ at folks with it and figuring how to material profit of’n them…then you would shrink up your spirit mind to a size no bigger’n a hickor’nut…In such case, you lost your spirit complete. That’s how you become dead people. Granma said you could easy spot dead people. She said dead people when they looked at a woman saw nothing but dirty; when they looked at other people they saw nothing but bad; when they looked at a tree they saw nothing but lumber and profit; never beauty.” (p60)
- ‘”When ye hear somebody using words again’ somebody, don’t go by his words, fer they won’t make no damn sense. Go by his tone, and ye’ll know if he’s mean and lying.’” (p.79)
- “That is the way Indians give gifts. They do not present it unless they don’t mean it and are doing it for a reason. They leave it for you to find. You would not get the gift if you didn’t deserve it, and so it is foolish to thank somebody for something you deserve, or make a show of it.” (p.148)
- “…if you were thrifty, you used your money for what you had ought but you was not loose with it. Mr. Wine said that one habit led to another habit, and if they was bad habits, t would give you a bad character. If you was loose with your money, then you would get loose with your time, loose with your thinking and practical everything else.” (p.164)
- “..she learnt me how the Indian bears pain. He lets his body mind go to sleep, and with his spirit mind, he moves out of his body and sees the pain—instead of feeling the pain.” (p.192)
Part of the reason I loved this book, and I hope he won't mind me saying so, is that the protagonist's 'Granpa' reminded me of my own father-in-law in a few key ways. There was his calculated, thoughtful speech, without wasting words, that made a body really listen to catch the true meaning of all he said. Or how he would stop whatever his task to give full attention to the speaker. And as well, the way his political thoughts peppered his opinions on so many subjects. All of things make me think fondly on my relative. Another reason I loved this book was for the personal insight I gained from a culture long removed from today's 'modern' world, and a people who trust more in the spiritual than the physical.
From this book, I personally learned how to carry emotional and physical pain, without the burden of external weakness, from a strong people driven from their nation. I learned to trust that the simpler life can be found from looking to the natural state of things around you; that like the seasons, change and death are a part of the cycle of life; that animals can feel if you like them; that happiness can be found in harmony with physical laws, through hard work, sacrifice, spending time with those you love, and looking for the meaningful in everything around you. I found that in this book, as in Oliver Twist, the pomp, aloof churchgoers and people of the world were portrayed as judgmental and mistrusting; a comparison which highlights the hypocrisy of worldly religion and education and roots out the notion that these institutions provide adequate education in anything that truely matters. And I respect the author all around for his ability to provide all these life lessons in a nonchalant, and nonjudgmental light; as if they are just inherit and for you the reader to pull out from the text.
Overall: I highly recommend that you read this book only if you are interested in a light and whimsical narrative plot with deeply profound undertones.