Nell Plants a Tree – Perfect Picture Book Friday

Two weeks ago, I featured a picture book with a parallel structure. This week’s picture book also features a parallel structure with two timelines, one that moves forward in current day, and one that moves forward in the past.

Text ©Anne Wynter Illus. ©Daniel Miyares
Before a grip on a branch
and a fall to the ground
and a scrape
and a leap
and a reach for the top,
Text ©Anne Wynter Illus. ©Daniel Miyares
before anyone finds out how high they can climb,
Text ©Anne Wynter Illus. ©Daniel Miyares
Nell picks up a seed.

The children in the first two spreads are the grandchildren of Nell, the girl who finds a seed, plants it, and tends to it so that it grows and grows until it becomes the tree that her grandchildren have been playing in and under throughout the book. Mind-bending, yes? Daniel Miyares, the illustrator, uses visual cues through modern vs. old-fashioned clothing and the color of Nell’s dress to keep the time periods straight.

The story is told in six sentences that read like poetry, each beginning with the word “Before.” The first five sentences end with Nell’s action, picking up a seed, burying a sprout in a pot, watering the soil of the pot, keeping the sapling in the sun as it grows taller, and then digging a hole in the yard. The last sentence is structured slightly differently, with Nell’s action of transplanting the sapling in the middle, so the sentence can end with the growth of the tree over time. The last spread shows the entire extended family (with Nell now as the grandmother) gathered to eat at a table underneath the tree’s canopy.

A tree is a beautiful metaphor to show the connection between generations, but it’s also a wonderful way to show how one little girl’s actions can have a profound impact on the experience of those who follow in her footsteps.

I also love how the front endpapers are like a patchwork quilt containing a sprouting pecan seed, while the back endpapers show a tree that’s grown within the quilt. Beautiful book!


If you can, plant a tree in your own yard. When I was young, I helped my mom plant several hundred tiny evergreen saplings in a “tree garden” that we then transplanted a couple of years later all around the yard. They’re now enormous, and her grandchildren and great-grandchildren play underneath their skirts.

Make a pecan pie. Try cracking unshelled pecans with your hands the way the author describes in her note. Here’s a recipe from Divas Can Cook.

Make a patchwork tree like the one on the back endpapers of the book. Then add lines or boxes (where you can write names), or photos to make your family tree, using the patchwork tree as a background. Include you, your parents, grandparents, and great grandparents, if you can.

Title: Nell Plants a Tree

Author: Anne Wynter

Illustrator: Daniel Miyares

Publisher: Balzer & Bray, 2023

Themes: trees, family, intergenerational stories

Ages: Elementary school

For more perfect picture book recommendations, please visit Susanna Hill’s website.

8 thoughts on “Nell Plants a Tree – Perfect Picture Book Friday

  1. Patricia Tilton says:

    I love this parallel story. Reminds me so much of my past and all of the things we planted as kids — like Christmas trees — and they still stand. I grew up with cherry, peach and apple trees in the backyard, so I have a soft spot for trees — fun to climb and my quiet refuge as a child. Love your suggested activities.

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      Thanks, Patricia! Trees are so effective at connecting generations, I think. Liz Garton Scanlon just mentioned this book on her Instagram, saying [I’m paraphrasing] that while she’s always warned writers against moving around in time for the picture book age crowd, like this book, the way Wynter does it here is clear and brilliant. I agree!

  2. Barbara Gruener says:

    I love a good time-travel twist and this one surely IS mind-bending. And I recognize this illustrator’s name from another picture book so I’m instantly drawn to the nuances in his artwork. Thank you for showcasing this intergenerational gem.

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      The time shifts are well done that it’s actually harder to explain than to read. Miyares’ work is just as brilliant, because the visual clues work so seamlessly with the text. Thanks for stopping by!

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