“The Tree of Lights,” by Curt Layman. Tate Publishing and Enterprises, LLC. $9.99
Curt Layman sits in front of a couple of hundred kids and asks them what they think of the opening line of his new book, “The Tree of Lights”: “Once upon a time … .”
Before he can continue the gym at the Bridger Elementary School erupts in laughter and jeers. Curt muses, “I think they’ve heard this one before.”
The allotted time passes quickly, the Billings author and carpentry contractor clearly entertaining the young audience while thoroughly enjoying the wide-ranging discussion, as the students keenly question him about book writing, the publishing business, how much money he makes from writing and profit margins.
Mr. Layman doesn’t do a reading, per se, as the whole hour is spent answering questions and exploring ideas. He says, “I could write another book on just their great questions and unique ideas; and the younger they are the more voluble and the more imaginative their comments.”
The eighth-graders toward the back of the room tend to be more aloof. He tries another opening: “Once upon a most frightful night … .” This one gets some applause, and he can tell it hooks a lot of them.
This is Mr. Layman’s second book. His first, “The Christmas Cheese,” was published last year. It introduced the thimble-size world of a mouse family and the main character, Junior Mouse, and what happens in a typical human home when the ‘tall ones’ leave at Christmas.
With his core characters now known, Mr. Layman is free with this second book to move Junior Mouse into unlimited opportunities of adventure (and probably further books).
The blue-black of the book’s cover with its dark shadow of an old sailing ship on a foaming, ghostly sea leads the young reader directly into “a most frightful night.”
From there it is nonstop action in a world where — not only do animals communicate with people — but a forgotten clan of leering trees can plot in silence, their twisted branches forming spindly arms and gnarly hands to snatch the unaware.