The Star Tree

h1 December 21st, 2021 by jules

“When they reached the top, they saw the old man hanging gold stars on a tree.
The stars twinkled in the moonlight and cast a golden glow on the bare branches and the snow beneath. Everyone stopped and stared in wonderment.”

(Click image to see spread in its entirety)


Christmas is upon us, so how about a holiday picture-book import? Gisela Cölle’s The Star Tree (NorthSouth, September 2021), translated by Rosemary Lanning, was originally published in Switzerland in 1997 and is now on American shelves.

The Star Tree tells the story of an elderly man who lives in a modest, green house near the busy city with its tall, monotonous skyscrapers. The people in the big city are hurried: They rush to work and come home exhausted. They don’t know each other. They even let “whole days go by without once looking up at the sky.”

The old man sits in his home a few days before Christmas and remembers Christmases of the past, when he was with friends and family and when children made gold stars they’d hang in the windows as a welcome sign to visitors. After seeing the “gaudy” Christmas decorations across the street with their “garish, glittering lights,” he decides to make some paper stars to hang in the country — where they will glow the brightest.

When the man heads outside, the cold wind is blowing so hard that it destroys all the Christmas decorations of his busy neighbors, and it brings down power lines. As a result, the city is “silent and dark.” As the old man reaches the top of a hill, some skyscraper residents see his silhouette in the bright moon and think they have spotted a man in the moon. And they are so happy to see this light that they all head outside and climb this hill. Soon, as you can see below, they spot the old man, who is able to share his unassuming gold stars with his neighbors.

It’s an intriguing import. It may be teeming with nostalgia (and inherently unfair to city life!), but it’s a less-is-more tale that definitely speaks to the part of me that gets weary at the rampant commercialism of the holidays. Who among us doesn’t occasionally want a break from the exceedingly loud, flashy nature of the Christmas season? (I’ll take a paper gold star any day over luxury cars with oversized red bows on them.) And Cölle’s textured, dream-like illustrations glow at the story’s close when the people find themselves drawn to the stars. I think perhaps this story, even if originally created in the 1990s, also speaks to the time we live in now, isolated as we are during the pandemic (particularly elderly people).

Take a look at some spreads below … and happy holidays! May you find some quiet during it all.


“One winter night, a few days before Christmas, the old man sat in his little house, thinking sadly of Christmases long ago. …”
(Click image to enlarge and read text in its entirety)


“Then one of the children began to sing a Christmas carol, quietly at first, then louder as the others joined in. The old man turned around when he heard the singing.
‘This feels more like Christmas!’ he said, and he began to sing too.”

(Click spread to enlarge)


(Click cover to enlarge)


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THE STAR TREE. Copyright © 1997 by NordSüd Verlag AG, C-8050 Zürich, Switzerland. First published in Switzerland under the title Der Sternenbaum. English translation copyright © 1997 by NorthSouth Books, Inc., New York. Translated by Rosemary Lanning. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher, NorthSouth Books.

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