Authors: Mildred D. Taylor
“A triumphant book . . . A true story truly told.”
The New York Times
“Brings to light the incredible fight for respect and honor still facing black families in the United States in the twentieth century.”
“A moving story that manifests two simple, strongly felt emotions: a love of nature and a sense of self-respect.”
“The simple story has been written with great conviction and strength, and Cassie’s descriptions of the trees add a poetic touch.”
The Horn Book
INNER OF THE
An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC
375 Hudson Street
New York, New York 10014
First published in the United States of America by Dial Books for Young Readers, a division of Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers, 1975
Published by Puffin Books, a division of Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers, 2003
This edition published by Puffin Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, 2016
Text copyright © 1975 by Mildred D. Taylor
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THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS HAS CATALOGED THE DIAL BOOKS EDITION AS FOLLOWS:
Taylor, Mildred D., Song of the trees.
[1. Trees—Fiction. 2. Depressions—1929—Fiction.]
I. Pinkney, Jerry, ill. II. Title.
PZ7.T21723So [Fic] 74-18598
Book design by Cara Petrus
This book is dedicated:
To my mother, Mrs. Deletha M. Taylor, the quiet, lovely one, who urged perseverance;
To my father, Mr. Wilbert L. Taylor, the strong, steadfast one, who wove the tales of history;
To my sister, Miss Wilma M. Taylor, the beautiful, laughing one, who lifted my spirits high;
To my grandparents, Mrs. Lee Annie Bryant, Mr. Hugh Taylor, and Mrs. Lou Emma Taylor, the wise ones, who bridged the generations between slavery and freedom;
To the Family, who fought and survived.
This book is based on a true story, one that actually happened in my family. As a small child, I often listened to my father recount his adventures growing up in rural Mississippi during the Depression. His vivid description of the giant trees, the coming of the lumbermen, and the events that followed made me feel that I too was present. I hope my readers will be as moved by the story as I was.
Mildred D. Taylor
“Cassie. Cassie, child, wake up now,” Big Ma called gently as the new sun peeked over the horizon.
I looked sleepily at my grandmother and closed my eyes again.
“Cassie! Get up, girl!” This time the voice was not so gentle.
I jumped out of the deep feathery bed as Big Ma climbed from the other side. The room was still dark, and I stubbed my toe while stumbling sleepily about looking for my clothes.
“Shoot! Darn ole chair,” I fussed, rubbing my injured foot.
“Hush, Cassie, and open them curtains if you can’t see,” Big Ma said. “Prop that window open, too, and let some of that fresh morning air in here.”
I opened the window and looked outside. The earth was draped in a cloak of gray mist as the sun chased the night away. The cotton stalks, which in another hour would glisten greenly toward the sun, were gray. The ripening corn, wrapped in jackets of emerald and gold, was gray. Even the rich brown Mississippi earth was gray.
Only the trees of the forest were not gray. They stood dark, almost black, across the dusty road, still holding the night. A soft breeze stirred, and their voices whispered down to me in a song of morning greeting.
“Cassie, girl, I said open that window, not stand there gazing out all morning. Now, get moving before I take something to you,” Big Ma threatened.
I dashed to my clothes. Before Big Ma had unwoven her long braid of gray hair, my pants and shirt were on and I was hurrying into the kitchen.
A small kerosine lamp was burning in a corner as I entered. Its light reflected on seven-year-old Christopher-John, short, pudgy and a year younger than me, sitting sleepily upon a side bench drinking a large glass of clabber milk. Mama’s back was to me. She was dipping flour from a near-empty canister, while my older brother, Stacey, built a fire in the huge iron-bellied stove.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do with you, Christopher-John,” Mama scolded. “Getting up in the middle of the night and eating all that cornbread. Didn’t you have enough to eat before you went to bed?”
“Yes’m,” Christopher-John murmured.
“Lord knows I don’t want any of my babies going hungry, but times are hard, honey. Don’t you know folks all around here in Mississippi are struggling? Children crying cause they got no food to eat, and their daddies crying cause they can’t get jobs so they can feed their babies? And you getting up in the middle of the night, stuffing yourself with cornbread!”
Her voice softened as she looked at the sleepy little boy. “Baby, we’re in a depression. Why do you think Papa’s way down in Louisiana laying tracks on the railroad? So his children can eat—but only when they’re hungry. You understand?”
“Yes’m,” Christopher-John murmured again as his eyes slid blissfully shut.
“Morning, Mama,” I chimed.
“Morning, baby,” Mama said. “You wash up yet?”
“Then go wash up and call Little Man again. Tell him he’s not dressing to meet President Roosevelt this morning. Hurry up now cause I want you to set the table.”
Little Man, a very small six-year-old and a most finicky dresser, was brushing his hair when I entered the room he shared with Stacey and Christopher-John. His blue pants were faded, but except for a small grass stain on one knee, they were clean. Outside of his Sunday pants, these were the only pants he had, and he was always careful to keep them in the best condition possible. But one look at him and I knew that he was far from pleased with their condition this morning. He frowned down at the spot for a moment, then continued brushing.
“Man, hurry up and get dressed,” I called. “Mama said you ain’t dressing to meet the president.”
“See there,” he said, pointing at the stain. “You did that.”
“I did no such thing. You fell all by yourself.”
“You tripped me!”
“Hey, cut it out, you two!” ordered Stacey, entering the room. “You fought over that stupid stain yesterday. Now get moving, both of you. We gotta go pick blackberries before the sun gets too high. Little Man, you go gather the eggs while Christopher-John and me milk the cows.”
Little Man and I decided to settle our dispute later when Stacey wasn’t around. With Papa away, eleven-year-old Stacey thought of himself as the man of the house, and Mama had instructed Little Man, Christopher-John, and me to mind him. So, like it or not, we humored him. Besides, he was bigger than we were.
I ran to the back porch to wash. When I returned to the kitchen, Mama was talking to Big Ma.
“We got about enough flour for two more meals,”
Mama said, cutting the biscuit dough. “Our salt and sugar are practically down to nothing and ——” She stopped when she saw me. “Cassie, baby, go gather the eggs for Mama.”
“Little Man’s gathering the eggs.”
“Then go help him.”
“But I ain’t set the table yet.”
“Set it when you come back.”
I knew that I was not wanted in the kitchen. I looked suspiciously at my mother and grandmother, then went to the back porch to get a basket.
Big Ma’s voice drifted through the open window. “Mary, you oughta write David and tell him somebody done opened his letter and stole that ten dollars he sent,” she said.
“No, Mama. David’s got enough on his mind. Besides, there’s enough garden foods so we won’t go hungry.”
“But what ’bout your medicine? You’re all out of it and the doctor told you good to ——”
“Shhhh!” Mama stared at the window. “Cassie, I thought I told you to go gather those eggs!”
“I had to get a basket, Mama!” I hurried off the porch and ran to the barn.
After breakfast when the sun was streaking red across the sky, my brothers and I ambled into the coolness of the forest leading our three cows and their calves down the narrow cow path to the pond. The morning was already muggy, but the trees closed out the heat as their leaves waved restlessly, high above our heads.
“Good morning, Mr. Trees,” I shouted. They answered me with a soft, swooshing sound. “Hear ’em, Stacey? Hear ’em singing?”
“Ah, cut that out, Cassie. Them trees ain’t singing. How many times I gotta tell you that’s just the wind?” He stopped at a sweet alligator gum, pulled out his knife and scraped off a glob of gum that had seeped through its cracked bark. He handed me half.
As I stuffed the gooey wad into my mouth, I patted the tree and whispered, “Thank you, Mr. Gum Tree.”
Stacey frowned at me, then looked back at Christopher-John and Little Man walking far behind us, munching on their breakfast biscuits.
“Man! Christopher-John! Come on, now,” he yelled. “If we finish the berry picking early, we can go wading before we go back.”