Charming and heartfelt, Oako’s Heart of Gold will encourage any young reader, even adult readers, to treat everyone they meet with empathy. You never know what someone may be going through, but a kind gesture, even the smallest one, can make an enormous difference in someone’s life.
Oako is a tree; a magical, sentient, towering oak tree. Oako has a few special talents. First of all, he can talk to children. But there’s a catch. When the children who have interacted with Oako turn fourteen, they will no longer remember the conversations. Perhaps we all visited with an Oako in our young lives, but as we become adults we lose the ability to tap into the sense of childhood wonder an innocence that allows us to converse with magical trees. In addition to his ability to talk to children, Oako can also talk to other trees and animals, but they can only talk when Oako is there, because of
Oako’s magic. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Oako helps children with their problems. Some of these problems are more trivial than others, but the most important part is that the magical tree, with help from his angel, Tiny, makes a difference to children, sometimes even saving a life. Oako can fly from place to place, invisible, helping children in every new location. However, he has a single weakness that could eventually cause his demise, though he can always be saved by love.
This fantastical story is appropriate for young children to teens, and would make a perfect gift for young readers. It’s an excellent story for any child to read. The language is lyrical and simple, but not overly so, and the story is engaging and magical. As a bonus for readers, each chapter is a short story in itself. This is satisfying for young readers. The relatively brief chapters that offer a clear beginning, middle, and end will encourage even little ones with a short attention span. It’s an appropriate book for teachers to read to students or parents to read to children, and a chapter is the perfect length for a bedtime story.
In addition to the convenient organization, Oako’s Heart of Gold addresses many problems that young people may face. Oako encounter’s children that are struggling with poverty, grief, bullying, and even immediately life-threatening situations. Though Oako is tasked with saving each of these children, in doing so, he teaches each child a lesson. Most importantly that when they are struggling, they should ask for help from someone they trust, whether it’s a parent, pastor, teacher, or other trusted adult. Young readers may see themselves in one of the children in the book, or if they are lucky enough not to endure any of these life-lessons, Oako will help develop a sense of empathy and understanding for others. Perhaps they will be able to offer help or support when they see another child struggling.
Oako offered one lesson that I found particularly interesting and useful: in several instances, Oako encourages his young child to communicate with their teacher through a confidential, classroom journal. Often, when things are difficult, it is easier to share in writing rather than verbally, and the idea of using a classroom journal that only the teacher reads gives a trusted adult insight into the child’s life in a non-threatening way.
The unique and magical Oako’s Heart of Gold teaches children the importance of empathy, friendship, love, imagination, and trust. It’s an excellent read for young readers, and readers who are young at heart.