April 24 – Arbor Day

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About the Holiday

Today is Arbor Day, a national celebration of trees that began as a campaign by J. Morton Sterling and his wife after they moved from Michigan to Nebraska in 1854. Morton advocated for the planting of trees not only for their beauty but as windbreaks for crops on the state’s flat farmland, to keep soil from washing away, as building materials, and for shade. In 1872, Morton proposed a tree-planting day to take place on April 10. On that day nearly one million trees were planted in Nebraska. The idea was made official in 1874, and soon, other states joined in. In 1882 schools began taking part. Today, most states celebrate Arbor Day either today or on a day more suited for their growing season. To learn about events in your area, find activities to download, and more, visit the Arbor Day Foundation website.

Peter and the Tree Children

Written by Peter Wohlleben | Illustrated by Cale Atkinson

 

One day while Peter enjoyed his morning coffee on his porch while listening to the birds singing, “a squirrel scampered up and sat down next to him as though they were old friends.” With tears in his eyes, the squirrel told Peter that he was all alone with no family. Peter was empathetic—his children didn’t live with him anymore—but, he said, “‘I still have the trees.’” He then told the squirrel how tree families live in the forest and asked if he would like to go look for some. This cheered the squirrel, and they headed out into the woods. On the way, Peter introduced himself, and the squirrel said his name was Piet.

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Image copyright Cale Atkinson, 2020, text copyright Peter Wahlleben. Courtesy of Greystone Kids.

When they reached a sunny clearing, Piet wondered where the tree children were. Peter told him it was too hot there and led the way deeper into the woods. The way was muddy, so Piet climbed on Peter’s shoulders. In the distance, they could hear a loud rumbling. As they grew nearer, they saw a “big machine busy cutting down trees.” Peter told Piet that they wouldn’t find tree children here either because the heavy machine had “‘packed the soil down so much that the little trees can’t grow in it.’”

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Image copyright Cale Atkinson, 2020, text copyright Peter Wahlleben. Courtesy of Greystone Kids.

They walked on sadly until they heard another noise. It was Peter’s friend Dana and her horse dragging a tree trunk. Piet introduced himself and told Dana of their mission to find tree children. She said she hadn’t seen any for a long time while Peter explained to Piet that Dana’s horse left the soil soft and loose unlike the big machine. After a close call with a hawk, Piet rode in Peter’s jacket.

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Image copyright Cale Atkinson, 2020, text copyright Peter Wahlleben. Courtesy of Greystone Kids.

They came to a rocky overlook where they watched a crew planting small trees in a clearing below. Peter looked at all of the big trees that had been cut down, and his face turned red with anger. Piet sniffed one of the little trees, wondering if they’d found tree children at last. He liked the orangey scent the seedling gave off. But Peter told him the trees were sad. “‘This smell is how trees talk to each other, and it means that the trees don’t feel so well. They miss being shaded and protected by their families.’” He wanted to show Piet some happy trees.

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Image copyright Cale Atkinson, 2020, text copyright Peter Wahlleben. Courtesy of Greystone Kids.

At last they came to a dark, cool beech forest, where “the silvery-gray trees formed a roof of leaves way up high.” On the ground Piet noticed “‘butterflies everywhere.’” Peter chuckled and told him that those green fluttering wings weren’t butterflies but “‘freshly sprouted beech children.’” Now it was Piet’s turn to laugh. He told Peter how he had hidden beechnuts in this spot in the fall and then forgotten where he’d buried them. They both thought that this forest where beech trees and their children grew together was the most beautiful they’d ever seen.

The sun was beginning to set, so they started the long walk home. Back on Peter’s porch, Piet looked sad again. He didn’t eat the snack Peter brought him and a tear rolled down his cheek. Everyone had a family except him, he said. Peter picked Piet up and told him that he liked him very much. Then he invited him to stay. “Piet’s eyes grew wide. ‘Does that mean we’re family now?’” Peter replied “‘Of course.’” Piet smiled, and then they made plans to visit the tree children again tomorrow.

Back matter reveals five more fascinating facts about how trees grow.

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Image copyright Cale Atkinson, 2020, text copyright Peter Wahlleben. Courtesy of Greystone Kids.

Peter Wohlleben’s engaging guides, Peter and Piet, educate children about the conditions necessary for trees to grow from seed to adult in his follow up to The Hidden Life of Trees for adults and Can You Hear the Trees Talking? For older children. In an attempt to cheer up Piet, Peter takes him into the forest in search of tree families and their little ones. Along the way, readers learn about the harmful effects of heavy logging machinery and the benefits of sustainable forestry. They also discover the fascinating fact that trees talk to each other through scent, which will inspire them to learn more. Adverse conditions and natural dangers draw Peter and Piet closer together, building a bond that culminates in Peter’s adopting Piet as a new family member. This turn of events, as well as Piet’s part in helping to foster the tree children they find, will cheer young readers.

Little ones will immediately empathize with Cale Atkinson’s cute squirrel, Piet, as he shares his sadness at not having a family with Peter. As Peter and Piet head into the forest, Atkinson’s sun-dappled pages invites readers to point out the butterflies, caterpillars, and flowers along their route. Kids may be surprised to see Dana and her horse and want to learn more about this type of forestry. Images of the impressive beech tree and thriving tree children will spur readers to look for young seedlings and saplings among stands of trees in their own area.

Ages 4 – 8

Greystone Kids, 2020 | ISBN 978-1771644570

Discover more about Peter Wohlleben, his books, and his work on his website.

To learn more about Cale Atkinson, his books, and his art, visit his website.

You can find Peter and the Tree Children at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

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Can You Hear the Trees Talking? Discovering the Hidden Life of the Forest

By Peter Wohlleben

 

For older children, Peter Wohlleben’s endlessly astonishing Can You Hear the Trees Talking? Reveals the depth of senses, awareness, and long-lasting family bonds that trees possess. In seven chapters, Wohlleben discusses in a conversational tone how trees work, what it’s like for them growing up in a forest, trees’ friends and enemies, how types of trees are different, forest animals, the impact of trees, and a tree’s transformations over a year. Each chapter is broken into short sections of discussions on one topic, illustrated with stunning photographs that clearly depict the concept.

Here are just a few highlights:

From Do Trees Have Grandparents?: Trees can recognize members of their own family. How? Through their roots! “If a tree’s roots meet those of a neighboring tree, the can check whether they belong to the same species.” If they are related, “now their roots will grow together. The trees send messages and exchange the sugar they have made through this connection. It’s as if they’ve invited each other to dinner.” And what about old stumps? Looking at the condition of the stump can tell you a lot. “If the bark is falling off and the stump is rotten, the tree is out of touch with its neighbors” and is no longer alive. “If the edge of an old stump is very hard and still has solid bark, the stump is still alive… [and] getting food from its family through its roots.”

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Copyright Peter Wohlleben, 2019, courtesy of Greystone Kids.

In What Do Tree Children Learn at School? kids discover that mother trees don’t leave their children alone and on their own. Mother trees search out their children with their roots, and when they’ve found them, these caring mothers connect with their babies and nurse them with sugar water. They need this nourishment because “in an old-growth forest, it’s very dark at ground level. With so little light, the tree children can’t produce their own sugar with their leaves, so they have to rely on their parents.

Can Trees Talk? Reveals that “a single tree notices when something bites it. After the initial shock, the tree will taste who is nibbling on it. Yes, you read that right: trees can taste. Because whenever an animal bites into the bark, a leaf, or a branch, it injects a bit of saliva into the wound. And every animal’s spit tastes different.” The tree then pumps a foul-tasting or even poisonous liquid into the site that wards off the predator. For example, to defeat bark beetles, trees “release a sticky, bitter substance called pitch” that trap beetles. The tree then alerts other trees to the danger by releasing a scent that causes nearby trees to begin generating pitch for themselves.

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Copyright Peter Wohlleben, 2019, courtesy of Greystone Kids.

We all know that animals, such as squirrels, hide food for the winter, but did you know that jays are masters of this autumn task? In Who’s the Best Forest Detective? Kids learn that when jays bury nuts and worms there are certain considerations. “Acorns and beechnuts remain fresh for more than six months, while dead earthworms only last a few days. The bird knows it has to eat the worms first so they don’t spoil.” And with the ability to “remember up to ten thousand hiding places,” quickly finding his stash is easy. “Usually, two thousand acorns and beechnuts are enough to see it through the winter. But because the jay can’t be sure that will be enough, it prefers to bury a few thousand more just in case.”

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Copyright Peter Wohlleben, 2019, courtesy of Greystone Kids.

With quizzes, prompts for observation, and interesting experiments to try, Can You Hear the Trees Talking? will keep young readers riveted to the pages and eager to get out into nature to explore the trees in a forest, a park, in their neighborhood, and close to home. This book would make a superb and often-referred-to addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 8 – 12 and up

Greystone Kids, 2019 | ISBN 978-1771644341

You’ll find a Can You Hear the Trees Talking? Companion Guide for parents and teachers to download on the Greystone Books website.

Discover more about Peter Wohlleben, his books, and his work on his website.

You can find Can You Hear the Trees Talking? at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Arbor Day Activity

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Paper Plate Tree

 

On Arbor Day children love planting trees in their yard or as part of a community project. With this easy craft, they can also make a tree for the table or to hang on their wall or bulletin board.

Supplies

  • Two paper plates 
  • Paper towel tube
  • Brown craft paint
  • Green craft paint (using a variety of green paints adds interest)
  • Paintbrush, cork, or cut carrot can be used to apply paint
  • Glue or hot glue gun or stapler

Directions

  1. Paint the paper towel tube brown, let dry
  2. Paint the bottoms of the two paper plates with the green (or other color) paints, let dry
  3. Flatten about 4 inches of the paper towel tube 
  4. Glue or tape the flat part of the paper towel tube to the unpainted side of one paper plate
  5. Glue the edges of the two paper plates together, let dry.
  6. Pull out the bottom of the tube so the tree can stand up, or hang your tree on a wall or bulletin board or in a window

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You can find Peter and the Tree Children at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

2 thoughts on “April 24 – Arbor Day

    • These are the companion books to Peter Wohllenben’s The Hidden Life of Trees for young people. Can You Hear the Trees Talking is sensational. One thing that struck me while reading to review was how close to the truth Tolkien’s Ents are in The Lord of the Rings series. This book would make a great accompaniment to those books too.

      Liked by 1 person

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