All about Green in the Middle of Winter: Trees

In the cold, white of win­ter, we find our­selves occa­sion­al­ly think­ing of green woods, tall trees, and the busy sounds of birds and squir­rels. And we are not the only ones who think about trees. There are many won­der­ful pic­ture books about trees and forests. We have cho­sen a few to share in this column.

The Leaf DetectiveThe Leaf Detec­tive, an engag­ing book writ­ten by Heather Lang and illus­trat­ed by Jana Christy, tells the sto­ry of Mar­garet Low­man, a sci­en­tist who, as a shy child, wrapped nature around her­self like a blan­ket. She loved being out­side, col­lect­ing bits of nature — leaves, acorns, ferns.  She found “com­fort and friend­ship and qui­et excite­ment in plants.”

That love of the nat­ur­al world has nev­er abated.

She went to col­lege and want­ed to con­tin­ue her stud­ies but found her­self “a young woman in a jun­gle of men…. One pro­fes­sor refused to let her into his class because she was a woman.” But Meg per­se­vered and decid­ed to study the Aus­tralian rain for­est — in her own way. She want­ed to study the tops of the trees. No one had ever done that. And Meg did not know how to do it either. She thought and thought about how she might get into the tree canopy. Final­ly she rigged a way with a har­ness and a sling shot to climb a rope up to the tree­tops. She nev­er looked back — and hard­ly ever looked down.

Meg Lowman’s life work has been study­ing trees — and con­vinc­ing peo­ple all over the world to val­ue their forests. She has helped design wood­land walk­ways high above the ground so any­one can see the mar­vels of the tree­tops. She has trav­eled to places like Cameroon, Samoa, and Ethiopia to help the peo­ple in those places learn ways to earn their liv­ing with canopy tourism, shar­ing and show­ing off their trees instead of cut­ting them down.

This infor­ma­tive book, with Christy’s lush art that takes us up into the canopy along­side Meg, has extra text on care­ful­ly-placed leaves on near­ly every spread. The back mat­ter tells of Lang’s trip through a Peru­vian rain for­est, guid­ed by Meg Lowman.

The Great Kapok TreeA great book to pair with The Leaf Detec­tive, because it takes us right up next to a rain for­est tree in the Ama­zon rain for­est, is The Great Kapok Tree. Lynn Cherry’s clas­sic book is a clar­i­on call to pro­tect rain forests — and begins with a note from the author encour­ag­ing the read­er to help pro­tect rain forests, includ­ing an address to send contributions.

This beau­ti­ful, impas­sioned book begins with two men walk­ing into a rain for­est. one car­ries an axe, the oth­er points to a tree. When the sec­ond man leaves we all know what will hap­pen next. The man with the axe will chop down the tree. But after a few whacks he grows weary and lays down to rest. As he sleeps the for­est crea­tures come to beg him to spare their tree. Snake, bee, mon­key all point out that they depend on the tree for habi­tat and food. The tree frog says, “Ruined rain for­est means ruined lives. You will leave many of us home­less if you chop down the great kapok tree.” And the sloth, final­ly mak­ing her way down to the sleep­ing man, asks, “How much is beau­ty worth…if you destroy the beau­ty of the rain for­est on what would you feast your eyes?”

When the man wakes up he sees spots of sun­light that “glowed like jew­els amidst the dark green for­est.” He smells the “fra­grant per­fumes” of the vin­ing flow­ers, hang­ing from the trees branch­es. But there is no sound. “The crea­tures were strange­ly silent. The man rais­es his axe to resume his task of whack­ing and chop­ping. Then he drops the axe and walks out of the forest.

Lynn Cheney trav­elled to the Brazil­ian rain for­est to research the illus­tra­tions for the great Kapok tree.  Her rich, detailed art gives us a glimpse of “the awe­some beau­ty of the rain for­est and the mar­velous crea­tures that inhab­it it.”

When the Sakura BloomsWhen the Saku­ra Bloom writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Nar­isa Togo takes us to a city in Japan where peo­ple “hus­tle, bus­tle, hur­ry dash” to their morn­ing work or school beneath the bud­ding branch­es of Saku­ra trees burst­ing with “red-ocher buds turn­ing pis­ta­chio green.”  A dou­ble page spread shows the flow­ers grad­u­al­ly unfold­ing into glo­ri­ous pale pink bloom (in this coun­try we know them as cher­ry blossoms).

Birds vis­it the flow­ers, bury­ing their beaks to reach the nec­tar and inad­ver­tent­ly gath­er­ing and spread­ing pollen from flower to flower.  Peo­ple who have hur­ried past the almost-bare branch­es now pause in their morn­ing rush to admire the flow­ers. With­in a week it is time for the Saku­ra Festival.Crowds come to lunch and delight under the blos­som­ing branch­es. When an after­noon rain becomes a fierce storm, turn­ing a ceil­ing of pink into a car­pet of pink “the Saku­ra fes­ti­val is over.  So brief, so beau­ti­ful.” But the Saku­ra trees know what to do.  They sprout leaves and grow fruit, and beneath their now- green branch­es peo­ple once again “hus­tle, bus­tle, hur­ry dash” under the leafy green trees.

The book is in land­scape for­mat — wider than it is tall — which makes a per­fect can­vas for the trees lin­ing the side­walk. Soft, del­i­cate art takes the Saku­ra from bare branch­es to bud to beau­ti­ful bloom to leaf, all while the hur­ry­ing city life goes on beneath them. 

Before We Stood TallBefore We Stood Tall, writ­ten by Jes­si­ca Kulekjian and illus­trat­ed by Made­line Kloep­per, is the sto­ry of the growth of trees from seedling to “tall,” except that it’s told in reverse.

This love­ly poem begins, “Before we were mighty in the king­dom of trees…” and con­tin­ues “Before we stood tall we clothed our­selves in bark and crowned/ourselves in leaves, wav­ing eager­ly at the sun.” The tree nar­ra­tor takes us by steps back to under­ground. “There in the dark­ness our roots searched the soil…and found a fam­i­ly of trees reach­ing out for us.” And final­ly the cir­cle clos­es: “Before our seeds took flight we dreamed in the branches/hoping to be mighty in the king­dom of trees.” 

By show­ing the growth of a tree in reverse, the author shakes up our expec­ta­tions and height­ens our aware­ness and appre­ci­a­tion of all that hap­pens as trees get to be “mighty in the king­dom of trees.”  And Made­line Kloepper’s illus­tra­tions are joy­ful and ener­getic — a cel­e­bra­tion of trees all by them­selves. Even the end­pa­pers are exquis­ite­ly leafy. But togeth­er, illus­tra­tions and words are more than the sum of their parts. They remind us of the gift of trees — a feast for our eyes, and our hearts, inspi­ra­tion to warm us all winter.

Kulekjian gives trees a voice.  Meg Flem­ing, too, in The Leaf Detec­tive, uses her voice

to inspire peo­ple
to save their rain­forests
to save them­selves.
            Because to Meg, a tree is not just a tree.

It is a shel­ter for ani­mals and peo­ple,
a recy­cler and provider of water,
a cre­ator of food and oxy­gen,
an inven­tor of med­i­cine,
a sol­dier against cli­mate change.

It is essen­tial for life on earth.

a few more tree books
The Grandad Tree
A Walk in the Forest
Wangari Maathai
The Boy Who Grew a Forest
nell plants a tree
From the Tops of the Trees

The Grandad Tree, by Trish Cooke, illus­trat­ed by Sharon Wil­son (we wrote about this book in August 2015)

A Walk in the For­est, by Maria Dek

Wan­gari Maathai: The Woman Who Plant­ed Mil­lions of Trees,by Franck Prévot, illus­trat­ed by Aurélia Fronty 

The Boy Who Grew a For­est: The True Sto­ry of Jadav Payeng, by Sophia Gholz, illus­trat­ed by Kay­la Harren

nell plants a tree, by Anne Wyn­ter, illus­trat­ed by Daniel Miyares

From the Tops of the Trees, Kao Kalia Yang, illus­trat­ed by Rachel Wada

Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments