A Good Day for Climbing Trees

Jaco Jacobs

Translated by Kobus Geldenhuys

Illustrated by Jim Tierney

Marnus is the middle one of three brothers.  His older brother, Donovan, is a successful rugby player and swimmer and is busing giving girls kissing lessons; while his younger brother, Adrian, is constantly hatching plans to make money.  Caught in the middle, Marnus feels invisible.  One of Adrian’s schemes has Marnus doing the washing up all holidays and he is looking for an escape.  When Leila rings the doorbell, Marnus assumes she is looking for Donovan, but instead she has a petition to stop a local tree being cut down.  Marnus’ lawyer mother has taught him never to sign his name to anything without knowing what he is signing up to, so he follows Leila to see the tree she is defending.  As the men from the municipality come to cut it down, Marnus and Leila end up climbing the tree to stop them.  Their protest attracts local and press attention and soon there is quite a crowd.  Eventually Leila reveals why the tree means so much to her and Marnus finds a friend and a clearer place in his own family.

This is a gentle, feel good read for nine years and up. The illustrations work well with the story and give it a very accessible feel. The characters stay with you and their differing struggles resonate. As well as family and friendship issues, there are strong environmental themes and an exploration of what it means to stand up for what you believe in.  Both would be good starting points for further discussion. One World have produced a teacher’s sheet, a reading guide and tree identification guide to support use of the book. It does give a view of South African life, but as it is set in an affluent white suburb it doesn’t present much diversity. Apartheid is referred to in passing but not explored and would need further explanation for younger readers.

Jacobs is a well known author in South Africa, having published over 140 books.  A Good Day for Climbing Trees was originally published in Afrikaans and was selected as an Honour Title in 2017 for BookTrust’s In Other Words project which aims to identify high quality writing for children in languages other than English and support their translation into English.