Storytime with grandparents is stuff of nostalgia. We have all experienced the magic of the stories our grandparents tell us. But, in The Glass Tree by M Mukundan (published by Katha) we see a role-reversal. We meet a young boy, Unni, who is in class two, and leads a busy life. However, it is only his stories that put his grandmother, Mutthashi to sleep. And hence, she has to plead to him to take a break from his homework schedule and tell her his special stories, “Unnikatha” as she calls them.
This role reversal is just the beginning of the surprises that this retelling of an original prize-winning Malayalam story has in store for the reader. A timeless picture book aimed at the 3 plus age group, but equally enjoyable for older kids and adults, this one tells a special tale. There is a story within the story as Unni tells his grandmother the story of The Glass Tree. The basic premise of the tale is that an artist suggests chopping off a Champaka tree and instead replacing it with a glass tree. The glass tree would have many advantages, the foremost being that it would never wither.
The deed is done. What does this lead to? As Unni’s story unfolds, the viewer can draw his own conclusion. There is no judgement. There is no right or wrong. It is a story and it is open to interpretation. The tale describes a deed. It highlights a point of view. But, in reality, what this book is doing is preparing an area for the reader to dig into. At one level, the reader can enjoy the tale and the wonderful artwork by Poonam Athalye. This process will lead deeper and the reader will uncover how sometimes, some mindless decisions taken with a good intention can also have unintended and perhaps negative consequences.
The young reader and the parent can dig for themselves and decide what they make of this tale. And that is the beauty of The Glass Tree. After all, the best books tickle the readers mind, leaving them with some food for thought.