In a wave of “tree books” that have suddenly appeared on the market, this one distinguishes itself in the way it speaks directly to the reader. And in the strong connections it makes between the reader and trees. It starts with an energetic directive—
Be a tree!
Stretch your branches to the sun.
In the next spread, where we see a cross-section of the earth with roots running deep in the soil, we’re instructed to
Let your roots curl,
coil in the soil to ground you.
Doesn’t that make you want to stretch and then curl your toes into the soil?
In the following spreads, we see how our spines are like trunks, skin is like bark, how we are layered, built, and grow like trees.
But then the storyline expands outward, showing how we can be like trees in the world, using our environment for sustenance.
And then taking an even broader view, showing how we are one of many. We and trees need communities. We share resources and protect each other.
And then one of my favorite spreads shows this interconnection metaphorically—
A wood wide web
Just as trees are connected to each other, we are connected to other humans. But everything in our world is connected in some way to everything else, an important truth to realize if we are ever to halt and/or reverse climate change.
Toward the end, there’s a marvelous gatefold that shows how immigrant trees are vulnerable unless they’re surrounded by a supportive community. An apt metaphor for our times.
Felicitas Sala’s freeflowing, water color, gouache, and colored pencil illustrations in earth tones work organically with Gianferrari’s lyrical, spare text in ways that make me want to move my body. I could see a parent or teacher reading this to children and having them move like the trees and kids in the illustrations during the reading.
Back matter includes information on how we can help save trees and help in our communities, the anatomy of a tree, and a page of resources for more information about trees.
Another great pairing: The Wisdom of Trees by Lita Judge
Collect leaves from trees in your yard, neighborhood, or park. See if you can match the leaves to ones shown on the end papers of this book. Or use an online tree identification guide.
Sit outside under or in your favorite tree. Listen to the sounds around you. Feel the breeze on your skin and in your hair. Imagine how the tree feels. Do you think it knows it’s your favorite tree? Write a poem to the tree, and then write a poem to you from the tree’s point of view.
Title: Be a Tree!
Author: Maria Gianferrari
Illustrator: Felicita Salas
Publisher: Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2021
Ages: Pre-K through 3rd grade
Themes: trees, communities, cooperation
For more perfect picture book recommendations, please visit Susanna Hill’s website.