A long time ago, there lived a boy who loved a little tree.
He was about 10 when he dug a hole and planted the white oak sapling in his family’s yard near the center of town.
He grew up and started his own family and grew old and died, but the tree kept growing and growing and growing and growing.
One morning in March of this year, the Town Manager looked out his office window at the tree … but this morning … the track hoe had flexed its long hydraulic arm and was attacking the tree. Already, the teeth of the shovel had ripped off the lower limbs.
Rick Thames, editor of The Charlotte Observer, said his reporter, Elizabeth Leland, found a “different approach to an old story. She looked for someone who had saved a tree — one tree.”
Once she found him — the town manager in the excerpt above — she thought of the first line of Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree,” and so her story began. One challenge, according to Leland, was “telling the story in the style of a children’s book, yet making sure it would appeal to both young and old readers.”
A “big part of the magic,” she pointed out, “comes from the drawings of Jason Whitley. They capture the spirit of the story in a way photographs could not.”
Judges praised the story as “an incredible piece, an immediate standout, even among an entry pool of phenomenal feature writing from the country’s best newspapers. The story was conceived brilliantly, solidly reported and sourced, and beautifully executed. … The tone of the piece made it an incredibly enjoyable read, and one that can — and should — be shared with readers young and old to help them understand the uniqueness of the town in which they live … as well as the importance of every tree.”