Bill Martin, Jr.’s The Ghost-Eye Tree. is a story about a time that is a distant memory in the minds of many adults. It is a time that has never existed for many children. In this story a young boy and his sister are sent to the local dairy farm to fill the family’s milk bucket. However, in order to retrieve the milk they must first walk past an old spooky tree which looks to have a Ghost-Eye when the moon shines just right.
A boy’s hat, the Ghost-Eye tree, and a sibling’s teasing continuously crop up throughout the tale. Even though this story is about traveling at night to get milk for the family, the reader will notice that the actual focus is on the hat, the tree, and the relationship between siblings. The boy loves his hat and it makes him feel brave. This emotion is needed as he walks the dark road past the tree that seems to stare and reach for him. However, the hat betrays him when he needs it the most.
The sister plays two parts in this story. She spends much of the time telling her brother that he is afraid and that his hat is stupid. However, when the occasion arises she proves to be the sister he can depend on. Children with siblings reading this story will easily connect with the complex relationship between these two.
Originally published in 1985 this story is beautifully written. It would also be a good read aloud book. The illustrations have a dark ominous almost fuzzy look that magnifies the feelings the Ghost-Eye tree creates. However, there are bright lighted pictures sprinkled within the book. These warm colors show up when trusted adults such as the mother and the milkman enter the story.
Even though The Ghost-Eye Tree contains topics most children can not personally connect with, the story itself provides some unique opportunities to teach history and relationships. The savvy instructor could use this book to discuss how much things have changed in the past few decades. After all it wasn’t long ago, just a mere three decades for some of us, that we were still fetching milk from the local dairy and using party lines to chat with our friends.
Another lesson idea could include brining in rotary phones from the past and perhaps a guest speaker who can chat about the topics presented in this story. Children could ask if the speaker ever experienced similar frightening images such as the Ghost-Eye as a child. It might be interesting to learn that adults once had the same feelings as the children sitting across from them. After all, the fear of the unknown is still relevant. Plus, children are often fascinated by the strange devices of the past that look vaguely familiar to the devices of today. Just that aspect alone could present many other teachable connections.
An exploration of relationships would also be interesting to explore with children. Who can or should they trust? Do all siblings argue like this brother and sister? Are these healthy arguments? Did the adults in their lives ever argue with their siblings? These are just a few interesting questions children could explore.
Overall, The Ghost-Eye Tree is a fun story that children today can still appreciate. This book can still be found in the children’s section of the library and many bookstores. Appropriate for ages 8-11.