March 3 – World Wildlife Day and Interview with Author Heather Lang

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About the Holiday

A vast number of plant and animal species are facing endangerment or extinction due to human caused climate change. World Wildlife Day was created in 1973 as an effort to protect the many endangered species of the world. It is an international holiday with a new theme each year to celebrate the biodiversity of our earth while also promoting awareness and advocacy. The theme for this year’s observance is “Forests and Livelihoods: Sustaining People and Planet.” There are many wonderful ways to celebrate this holiday; spend some time in nature, pick up litter around your block, find out about activities going on in your hometown, and read books to educate yourself and others on the livelihood of forests, wildlife and the environment.  To learn more about World Wildlife Day, and the virtual events happening today, visit this webpage: https://www.wildlifeday.org/. If you are searching for books to celebrate, The Leaf Detective is a perfect fit!

Thanks to Boyds Mills for providing a digital copy of The Leaf Detective for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Reviewed by Dorothy Levine

The Leaf Detective: How Margaret Lowman Uncovered the Secrets of the Rainforest

Written by Heather Lang | Illustrated by Jana Christy

 

As a child, Meg was quite shy to make friends. She spent lots of time studying and playing with wildlife: “Meg wrapped herself in nature, like a soft blanket.” As she continued to grow, so did her passion for leaves, trees, and nature. Meg attended Sydney University in Australia. In 1979, she became the first person at her graduate school to study the rainforest. Through her studies Meg learned that people had been all the way to outer space to study, but nobody had ever ventured to the tippity top of a canopy tree. Instead, they studied trees from far away through binoculars. Oftentimes scientists would spray trees with chemicals so that the harmed leaves and animals would drop to the forest floor where people could study them up close. Meg sought to change this.

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Image copyright Jana Christy, 2021, text copyright Heather Lang, 2021. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

“In the dark, damp forest the trees rose up to distant rustling, squawks and screeches, shadows in the treetops. How could she get up there?” Meg Lowman created her own slingshot and harness and inched up a coachwood tree. When she reached the canopy, she knew she’d found the perfect place to study and explore. Meg is quoted saying, “From then on, I never looked back…or down!”

Meg continued to create new strategies to study the canopy, as a scientist does. And in doing so she made so many discoveries, such as: “We now believe the canopy is home to approximately half the plant and animal species on land.” Many people tried to stop Meg along her journey. They told her she couldn’t take science classes, climb trees, or make inventions because she was a woman. But Meg ignored them. She continued to investigate.

She knew that rainforests were (and are) in danger, and that so many creatures rely on the rainforest ecosystem. People all over the world were cutting down large parts of the rainforests for wood, rubber, paper, and farmland. This worried Meg; she wanted to find a way to protect rainforests before they all disappeared. “She wondered, How can one leaf detective make a difference? How can I save the trees?…Then an idea crawled into Meg’s thoughts—a way to speak for the trees.”

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Image copyright Jana Christy, 2021, text copyright Heather Lang, 2021. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

Meg traveled around the world. She spoke to people across many different countries; taught them how to climb trees, build canopy walkways—she showed people the many gifts rainforests have to offer. Meg educated communities on how they could share their rainforest with outsiders, showcase its beauty to create revenue rather than chopping them down for resources. By using her voice and creative mind, Meg helped implement systems that have saved many trees and creatures across the world.

Meg Lowman continues to study trees, save rainforests, and teach people how to shift their economies to center around ecotourism and sustainable crops rather than resource extraction. She has used her voice to save rainforests across the world, and yet she still says, “If only I could have achieved as much as the tree!… But I have not. I have whittled away at relatively small goals in comparison to the grander accomplishments of a tree.”

Backmatter includes an author’s note detailing Heather Lang’s visit to meet Margaret Lowman in the Amazon rainforest in Perú. The note includes more information on Dr. Lowman’s advocacy work and is followed by an illustrated educational spread on the layers of canopies, and species featured throughout the story are labeled in the final spread, for readers to learn more about specific animals that make their homes in the rainforest.

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Image copyright Jana Christy, 2021, text copyright Heather Lang, 2021. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

Heather Lang’s lyrical writing matches the carefulness with which Meg studies leaves, trees, and the rainforest canopy. Her compelling storytelling is rich with facts and sensory imagery that immerse readers in the environment and Meg’s determination to understand and, later, save it. Scattered images of leaves drop fun facts and definitions for readers about the rainforest, canopies, transpiration, herbivores, and more. Quotes from Dr. Lowman are thoughtfully placed throughout the story in a manner that neatly flows. The Leaf Detective urges readers to understand that “a tree is not just a tree” but rather “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.”

Jana Christy’s digital drawings contain stunning detail and show an accurate scale of one small person in comparison to the vastness of the rainforest. Her mesmerizing wildlife creatures and immersive watercolor blues and greens transport readers right into the rainforest with “Canopy Meg.” The lush greens of the rainforests contrast strikingly with the spread on deforestation, in which fallen trees lay scattered on the bare, brown ground. Readers will also be interested to see the innovations that have made the trees more accessible to people. One can read the book over and over and notice new details every time. It is a book to treasure, to study, to read and re-read again. 

Come unearth the secrets of the rainforest with Margaret Lowman in this book that’s budding with knowledge, empathy, and magic, and is a tale of how one person can make a difference. The intriguing facts, poignant quotes from Dr. Lowman herself, and beautiful poetic writing will leave readers of this book inspired with wonder and with a hunger for advocacy. The Leaf Detective: How Margaret Lowman Uncovered the Secrets of the Rainforest is an urgent must-read for all ages.

A portion of Heather Lang’s royalties for this book go to TREE Foundation—an organization that funds field trips for children to get into nature, canopy projects, and science book distribution for children with limited access to STEAM, girls especially. 

Ages 6 – 10

Calkins Creek, 2021 | ISBN 978-1684371778

Discover more about Heather Lang and her books on her website.

To learn more about Jana Christy, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Meet Heather Lang

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Heather Lang loves to write about real women who overcame extraordinary obstacles and never gave up on their dreams. Her research has taken her to the skies, the treetops of the Amazon, and the depths of the ocean. Her award-winning picture book biographies include, QUEEN OF THE TRACK: Alice Coachman, Olympic High-Jump Champion, THE ORIGINAL COWGIRL: The Wild Adventures of Lucille Mulhall, FEARLESS FLYER: Ruth Law and Her Flying Machine, SWIMMING WITH SHARKS: The Daring Discoveries of Eugenie Clark, and ANYBODY’S GAME: Kathryn Johnston, The First Girl to Play Little League Baseball. When she is not writing, she enjoys going on adventures with her husband and four children. Visit Heather at www.heatherlangbooks.com.

Today I am thrilled to be interviewing author Heather Lang about her new biographical picture book The Leaf Detective: How Margaret Lowman Uncovered the Secrets of the Rainforest. Heather provides some thoughtful notes for shy readers, riveting stories from the rainforest and insight into the importance of exploring and caring for nature.

Can you tell us a little bit about what made you decide to write The Leaf Detective?  

We’ve caused enormous harm to our planet over the last few centuries, and I’m especially concerned about our rainforests. I knew I wanted to write a biography that was also a science book about the rainforest. When I read about Meg’s pioneering work and deep passion for trees, I was hooked! I couldn’t wait to find out how this quiet, nature-loving child, who didn’t know women could be scientists, became a world-class scientist and conservationist.

In the story you talk about how Meg was shy to make playmates with other kids. Were you also a shy kid growing up? Do you have any advice for readers who may relate to this aspect of Meg’s childhood? 

Like Meg, I was very shy as a child and remember wishing I were more outgoing. But as I grew older, I began to recognize the many advantages to being shy! My shy nature led me to sit back and observe. And that led to deeper thinking and understanding, a strong imagination, and creativity. Shy people often think more before they speak. They make their words count, which coincidentally is an important part of writing picture books. This also makes shy people good listeners and thoughtful friends. 

I’m still shy in many ways, and my recommendation to readers who might identify with this is to embrace your shyness! At the same time, don’t let it stop you from doing things you want to do. Meg Lowman told me she used to get so nervous before presenting in graduate school that she’d get physically sick. But with practice, practice, practice, she’s become a captivating presenter and educator. If you watch a few of her FUN FACTS FROM THE FIELD videos on my website, you’ll see what I mean! 

How would you describe your connection to nature? Would you consider yourself a “detective” in any ways? 

I’m constantly in awe of nature and its countless gifts and surprises. Nothing sparks my curiosity more than our natural world, and my curiosity is probably my most important tool as a writer. Being open-minded and asking questions not only generates ideas, but also leads me to think more deeply about a topic and examine it closely from lots of different angles. And of course that generates more detective work and more learning about my topic and myself. Being a detective is one of my favorite parts of writing books.

Do you have a favorite rainforest tree or creature? If so, tell me about it a bit!

When I arrived in the Amazon rainforest, I couldn’t wait to see a sloth! But during my time there I became fascinated with ants. They are everywhere in the rainforest, even in the canopy. I think it’s amazing how such tiny creatures can be so hardworking and organized. Their teamwork is unbelievable. And they are invaluable to the health of our rainforests. Among other things, they’re in charge of waste management on the rainforest floor, and they disperse seeds and aerate the soil!

What was the most rewarding part of writing The Leaf Detective?

This writing project was filled with rewards every step of the way! I learned so much about our rainforests and trees and gained a true understanding of how interconnected we all are—plants, animals, and humans. Getting to really know Meg Lowman and learning from her firsthand was thrilling and strengthened my writing in many important ways. It was also really rewarding to stretch myself as a writer and find a way to effectively write a book that seemed ambitious at first—a biography and conservation book that wove in quotes and science facts. 

Are there any stories from your trip to meet Meg that you did not get the chance to include in your author’s note that you’d like to share?

While I was on my Amazon adventure with Meg, I had many exciting moments. I loved learning from the Indigenous people how to use a blow gun, make clay, and braid palm leaves to make thatched roofs. The local shaman taught me how he uses different plants in the rainforest to treat and prevent injuries and illnesses—from bronchitis to poisonous snake bites. He also helped me confront my fear of snakes by bringing one over for me to touch. I even let it gently coil around my neck! But my favorite moments were exploring with Meg, especially at night and early in the morning when there’s so much activity in the rainforest.

What are you working on next?

I’m having a blast working on a new informational picture book series about extraordinary animals for Candlewick Press with my co-author/illustrator and close friend Jamie Harper. The first book, Supermoms!, features cool nonfiction facts about 18 amazing animal moms in a graphic format with humorous callouts. 

I’m also working on a collective biography for readers in grades 3 – 7. More to come on that soon!

Thanks so much for chatting with me Heather! I had a lovely time hearing about your inspiration, stories, writing process and tips for shy readers. Looking forward to learning and reading more from you in the months and years to come.

World Wildlife Day Activity

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You can create your own rainforest with this coloring page. Use the blank space around the picture to label the layers as shown on the last page of The Leaf Detective!

Rainforest Coloring Page

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Three different beautiful World Wildlife Day 2021 posters in six languages are available for download here.

You can find The Leaf Detective at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

December 19 – Look for an Evergreen Day

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday gives people an opportunity to learn about and appreciate the variety of evergreen trees that grow locally and around the world. During the winter these giants stand out against snowy landscapes with their deep-green needles that retain their color all year around and always offer the hope of spring. For those who celebrate Christmas, the evergreen is a highlight of the celebration. Decorated with lights and sparkly ornaments, the tree is where family and friends gather to exchange gifts and share time together. Look for an Evergreen Day was created by the National Arborist Association to encourage people to enjoy the beauty of these special trees.

Pick a Pine Tree

Written by Patricia Toht | Illustrated by Jarvis

 

A family of four and their dog head out to “pick a pine tree / from the lot,” but what kind do they want—“slim and tall or short and squat?” After looking them all over, they choose a nice big one and tie it to the roof of their car for the trip home. At home they clear a place for the tree to stand, give it a drink, and then “find the trimmings / stored within / bulging boxes, rusty tins, / paper bags, a wooden case. / Bring them to that / special place, / there, beside your tree.”

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Image copyright Jarvis, 2017, text copyright Patricia Toht, 2017. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

But they don’t start decorating yet. They call their friends to come and help. With the house full of cheer, the kids string the lights, wrapping them around the branches. Next come the ornaments—“Jolly Santas, / Dancing elves. / Wooden reindeer. / Jingle bells. / Lacy snowflakes. / Paper dolls. / Candy canes and / bright glass balls.” With hooks and string the bright ornaments are hung on the tree.

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Image copyright Jarvis, 2017, text copyright Patricia Toht, 2017. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Finally, garlands are “strung / from bough to bough,” and tinsel is draped in “silver drips.” On the top a star shines bright and down below a tiny village springs up, complete with “a train that chugs around a track.” At last it’s finished and the lights are lit. “Look! It’s not a pine tree / anymore. / It’s a… / Christmas tree!” As everyone gathers to singing around the Christmas tree, Merry wishes are bestowed on “one and all.”

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Image copyright Jarvis, 2017, text copyright Patricia Toht, 2017. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Patricia Toht’s lively rhymes engage kids in one of the holiday season’s most fun activities—picking out and decorating the Christmas tree. Her step-by-step verses brim with the growing excitement of the day and encourage sharing the celebration with family and friends. As they read, kids will be caught up in the fun and memories of this favorite tradition.

Vivid, action-packed mixed-media illustrations in a rich color palette by Jarvis take readers to the Christmas tree lot with its rows and rows of different trees to choose from and back to the family’s cozy home—where a dog and cat are happy to help out. As friends and neighbors drop by for the decorating party, kids will love recounting their own experiences hanging the lights and pointing out ornaments that may look like their own. The fully decorated tree glows in a two-page vertical spread that will wow little readers.

A sweet family story full of smiles, eager anticipation, and a love of Christmas, Pick a Pine Tree is a magical read to add to holiday story times.

Ages 3 – 7

Candlewick Press, 2017 | ISBN 978-0763695712

Discover more about Patricia Toht and her books on her website.

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

Look for an Evergreen Day Activity

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Find the Perfect Pine Tree! Maze

 

Can you help the kids sled their way to find the evergreen tree in this printable maze?

Find the Perfect Pine Tree! Maze | Find the Perfect Pine Tree! Maze Solution

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You can find Pick a Pine Tree at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

November 18 – It’s Picture Book Month and Interview with Karen Rostoker-Gruber

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About the Holiday

There’s still time to celebrate one of the best months of the year—Picture Book Month! If you’re in shopping mode, be sure to put plenty of picture books on your list for the kids in your life. And don’t forget the littlest readers in your life. Sharing board books, with their sturdy pages and just-right size, is the perfect way to get babies and preschoolers excited about books, reading, and the special times in their life – as you’ll see with today’s book.

Happy Birthday, Trees!

Written by Karen Rostoker-Gruber | Illustrated by Holly Sterling

 

Three children are excited to be celebrating Tu B’Shevat together. One boy shows the others the little sapling they can plant then the three dig in with their shovels to create the perfect hole to nurture it. When the hole is just the right size, they carefully place the tree in it and tell readers, “then, we’ll fill the hole with dirt. / (An extra shovel doesn’t hurt.) / We’ll fill the hole with lots of dirt!”

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Image copyright Holly Sterling, 2020, text copyright Karen Rostoker-Gruber, 2020. Courtesy of Kar-Ben Publishing.

When the tree is all snug in its new home, it’s time to feed it (and have some giggly fun). “Then, we’ll spray the garden hose, / and wet the tree (and soak our clothes). / On Tu B’Shevat we’ll spray the hose! Throughout the year, the kids watch as their tree grows taller and sturdier. When the weather turns warm, they play around the tree, singing “for all the trees” with delight as they await the day when Tu B’Shevat comes around again and the tree’s blossoms “fill the air with sweet perfume.”

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Image copyright Holly Sterling, 2020, text copyright Karen Rostoker-Gruber, 2020. Courtesy of Kar-Ben Publishing.

Karen Rostoker-Gruber’s celebration of Tu B’Shevat takes little ones step-by-step through the thrill of planting a tree and watching it grow. Her breezy, exuberant verses incorporate simple rhymes and repeated phrases that will allow even the youngest children to join in after a first reading. In her sweet board book Rostoker-Gruber captures the excitement kids feel for special holidays and the pride they feel when participating in their family’s or friends traditions. The cyclical nature of her story will also inspire children to want to plant and tend to their own tree for Tu B’Shevat (celebrated beginning at sundown on January 27, 2021 through nightfall on January 28) or when weather conditions permit.

Bright and filled with the high spirits of childhood, Holly Sterling’s illustrations of three adorable kids working together to plant a tree will captivate little readers. Decked out in their gardening clothes and each with a shovel, the three crouch and lie on the ground next to the hole to make sure the tree goes in straight and safely. Sterling has an eye for the kinds of realistic details that define children’s behavior: to make sure the hole is filled to the brim, one little boy pours on dirt from two shovels—one in each hand; and under the arched spray of the hose, the girl raises her arms to welcome the cool spray while a boy sticks out his tongue for a sip. Sterling’s lovely color palette and graceful lines create a cheerful, fresh story that adults will want to share with their children again and again.

A joyful and lively way to celebrate and/or introduce Tu B’Shevat to little ones as well as a charming story for young nature lovers any time of the year, Happy Birthday, Trees! would be an enchanting addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 1 – 4

Kar-Ben Publishing, 2020 | ISBN 978-1541545649

You can download a teacher’s guide to Happy Birthday, Trees! from the Kar-Ben Publishing website here.

Discover more about Karen Rostoker-Gruber and her books on her website.

To learn more about Holly Sterling, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Meet Karen Rostoker-Gruber

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You have a very interesting and varied career! Before you wrote books for children, you published several humorous books for adults. Your children’s books also incorporate humor. Can you talk a little about your style of humor and how you’ve expressed it throughout your life?

I’ve been writing since I was 8 years old. I wanted to write for children, but the adult humor market was easier, at the time, to break into.  

I started writing humor when I began college. Things were so strange at Trenton State that I had to start writing things down. The first humor book I wrote was called The Unofficial College Survival Guide.  

I had worked in the kitchen as a waitress for the college serving alumni dinners—sometimes to 200 – 300 people. I needed the money and it was the only way to secure edible food. 

 
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One night, while piling my tray with plates of food for the next alumni dinner, I noticed a sign on a barrel that said, “grade D,” but edible. I opened the barrel and there were thousands of hot dogs. I had no idea what “grade D, but edible” meant, but I no longer wanted to find out. After that day, I started eating cereal for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

I also kept finding humor on campus—mostly in the cafeteria; it wasn’t hard. There was literally humor everywhere I looked.  

When I got married, my humor book, Remote Controls Are Better Than Woman Because. . . became a HUGE hit.  I was on the Ricki Lake Show back then and over 60 live radio shows.  Then came my book, Telephones Are Better Than Men Because. . . I wrote both of those books on sticky notes in my car because I had a stop-and-go, 45-minute drive to work every day. I’d write new quotes down on a sticky note and fling them around in my car.  

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My book, If Men Had Babies, (lullabies would be burped… Prenatal vitamins would taste like honey-roasted beer nuts…, Golf carts would come equipped with car seats…”) was hysterical to me as a first-time mom. I wrote in between my daughter’s nap time, doing the laundry, the dishwasher, cleaning the house, and making breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  

image.pngAs far as incorporating humor into my children’s books, sometimes I use puns, which is why my characters are mostly animals. Animal puns are fun. I would sit on my driveway for hours, while my daughter drove her Barbie car, looking at the dictionary to find good cow, sheep, goat, chicken, and cat puns.

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I also use a bit of adult humor in my books. There should be humor for the adult reading the book, too. In my book, Farmer Kobi’s Hanukkah Match my favorite line is when the sheep say, “Her name was Polly Ester, she was a faaake,” baaed the sheep.

(Get it?  Polyester is fake vs. wool from the sheep!)  

Here’s also a favorite page from my book:

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You’ve had a long and steady career as a children’s author. What first inspired you to write for children? What’s one thing that has changed for writers since you began? What’s one thing that has stayed the same?

I’ve been writing for children since I was 8 years old. The only thing that really changed was that I actually started sending out my work in 1988-ish instead of just keeping manuscripts in my drawer. But from 1988 until 2000, I mostly received rejection letters—nice ones (that are now in my oxymoronic rejection letter binder), but rejection letters nevertheless.

My path to publication changed once I went to a conference and met with editors.  After attending the conference, each mentee was able to submit directly to their mentor and other editors that you met there. And, you were able to write “requested material” on the outside of the envelope. This was important back then because all “Requested Material” manuscripts passed the slush pile and went directly to the editor it was addressed to. (Back in 2000 you submitted via snail-mail and there really were slush piles.)  I saw them! For real!

The conference that I went to was the Rutgers One-on-One Conference. At that conference my mentor (Karen Riskin from Dial Books for Young Readers) took two of my manuscripts back with her to Penguin Putnam (it’s called Penguin Random House now). Both manuscripts wound up getting published: Food Fright was published by Price Stern Sloan in 2003 and Rooster Can’t Cock-a-Doodle-Doo was published with Dial Books for Young Readers in 2004.  

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After the success of Rooster Can’t Cock-a-Doodle-Doo, (selling 250,000 copies) I met another editor (Margery Cuyer) at an informal conference.  She went on to acquire five of my books for Marshall Cavendish: Bandit, Bandit’s Surprise, Ferret Fun, Ferret Fun in the Sun, and Tea Time.

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The difference from then to now is that these days you need to meet editors one-on-one or you need to have an agent. I can’t get into the big publishing houses that I used to submit to before because their policies have changed.  I had 14 traditionally-published books out there with great houses before I got an agent. I’m NOT an overnight success story—far from it. 

CPB - overnight success sign

The setting for Happy Birthday, Trees! is Tu B’Shevat or the Jewish Arbor Day. Can you talk a bit about this holiday, it’s meaning, and how it is traditionally celebrated?

Tu B’Shevat is basically Earth Day. I think the PJ Library says it best on my teacher’s guide:

“The Jewish holiday of Tu B’Shevat, also known as the Birthday of the Trees, celebrates the critical role that trees play in life.” Jewish concepts: “Trees and the environment have particular importance in Jewish thought. From the very beginning of the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) we are taught to respect all things that grow, as Adam is placed in the Garden of Eden to “keep it and watch over it” (Genesis 2:15). The value of bal tashchit, which translates from the Hebrew as “do not destroy,” has become the Jewish ecology mantra. Put into action, this concept means we are all partners in preserving the beauty and sustainability of our world.” “Traditionally, Jews eat the fruit of a tree only after it is three years old. The 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat, called Tu B’Shevat, became the trees’ birthday to help people determine when to first harvest their fruit. This holiday is gaining significance today as the Jewish Earth Day.”   

I love the structure of Happy Birthday, Trees!, especially the rhythmic repetition that’s so enticing for little ones to join in on. There’s also a playful humor that kids will love. What was your writing journey for this book?

I love bits of rhyme, repeated refrains, humor, and animal puns, so I always try to incorporate a few of these things in my books. I also know that kids love predictability. The journey for the book, “Happy Birthday, Trees”:  

I was invited to a luncheon in NY for the PJ Library.  About 20 other authors were there. At that time I had three published Jewish-themed  books, Farmer Kobi’s Hanukkah Match, Maddie the Mitzvah Clown, and The Family and Frog Haggadah, which is a real haggadah that was featured in the NY Times!  

CPB - maddie the mitzva clown
 
CPB - the family and frog haggadah
 
 

They told us that they were actively looking for board books and chapter books at the time. I had a lot of board books in my drawer already, so I sent them the one that I liked the best. At that time it was called, “Happy Birthday to the Trees.” 

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-happy-birthday-trees-coverMonths later (I forgot all about sending that story into the PJ Library) I got a call from the PJ Library that I won the author incentive award—2,000 dollars. Then my agent (I now had an agent) Karen Grencik found a publisher for it.

Holly Sterling’s illustrations are adorable and really capture the delight of the children. What was your first impression when you saw Holly’s pages?

I was super-excited about Holly’s illustration sample that Joni Sussman from KarBen showed me, so I couldn’t wait to see what she would do with this very simple board book. I LOVE the illustrations. The children look like they are having a blast on the front cover.

A Crowded Farmhouse Folktale definitely combines humor with a heartfelt message. The story is a retelling of a traditional Yiddish tale. What about this tale really resonated with you for today’s kids? How did you make it your own?

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I was reworking a folktale for one editor, but by the time I found a folktale that I liked and reworked that editor had already taken on a story too similar to it. I remembered this story as a child, but I wanted to make it a folktale for everyone, so I took out the Rabbi and added a wise woman instead.  Every story that I read had a wise man—times have changed.  

I also added a bit of rhyme and a repeated refrain.  The story is basically about being grateful for what you have, which is perfect for COVID times as everyone is feeling like Farmer Earl with family members working and learning in the house; it’s too crowded.

If you had to live with three groups of animals like the family in your book—small, medium, and large—what would they be?

I love hamsters (They’re sooo cute and fuzzy).

Goats crack me up; they always look like they’re up to something. 

As far as large animals go, there are too many that I’d like to have: elephants (I could teach them to paint), dolphins and gorillas (I could teach them to speak—I’m fascinated by Koko the gorilla), and pandas—just because they look so cuddly.

Oh, and unicorns (because they’re magical).

I love Kritina Swarner’s whimsical-yet-realistic illustrations, especially as the house becomes more and more crowded and chaotic. Do you have a favorite spread?

I love her work. There’s so much detail: in the wise woman’s dress, the fabric on her chair. Also, if you look closely, the plants are growing in her window from scene to scene, there’s a mouse under a bed, and my favorite spread is the toilet paper scene. However, I also like the expressions on the cat’s faces throughout the book. They are NOT amused at the amount of animals in the house.

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You’re also an accomplished ventriloquist and have an adorable puppet named Maria who accompanies you on visits to schools and libraries. How did you get involved in ventriloquism and can you describe your program briefly? How do the kids respond to Maria?

I am a self-taught ventriloquist. I used to talk for my sister’s blanket, her food, and her dolls. She was 5 years younger than I was so she was the perfect audience.  

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I take Maria to every school visit–even my virtual ones (I just did one with 600 children). In my program I talk to children about every step I take from sticky notes at 3 am, to revisions, to submitting a polished manuscript to an agent or an editor.  

Maria is my side-kick, because you had better be funny if you are in front of 350 – 600 children. Plus, kids LOVE Maria! Some don’t know how she talks; it’s magical to them and I don’t want to ruin that magic.  

If Maria and I are doing “high tea” at a tea house or a public show at a library, I have to bring Maria’s car seat, eye mask, and blanket. Children follow me out to my car to watch me buckle her in with a seat belt. 

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One time, after a show, a boy came up to me and wanted to know how his parents could “buy” him a puppet like Maria. I told him that I got the last talking puppet on the internet. Enough said. 

Here’s Maria as Alice in Wonderland for another show that we did.  She likes to dress up. (It took me three hours to sew felt Mary Janes onto her white socks. Ugh!)

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One day I had to take Maria shopping to Walmart to get her PJs because we had a bedtime, bears, and books show. I didn’t know her size. I held Maria up in the seat of the cart with my right hand while pushing the cart with my left hand. We had quite the following that day up and down the aisles.  Kids just wanted to follow her around. 

What do you like best about being an author for children?

My favorite part is when I get to see the illustrations; to see if the illustrator took my words to a new level. And, I LOVE seeing children enjoying my books and laughing at the puns.  

What’s up next for you?

I’m always working on something, but it’s always a waiting game.  Anything can happen on any day. An editor can email me from a year ago to tell me that something that I sent them is now a go.  I’m not going to lie— 

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every day is full of surprises and disappointments.  Being an author is very emotional. You have to have thick skin.

Thanks so much, Karen, for this awesome discussion about your books and sharing so much about your life as an author! I wish you all the best with Happy Birthday, Trees!, A Crowded Farmhouse Folktale, and all of your books!

Picture Book Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-tu-b'shevat-coloring-page

Plant a Tree! Activity Pages

 

Whether you need to wait awhile before you can plant a tree or are in a warm-weather locale that allows for planting now, you can enjoy these two tree activity pages!

Plant a Tree Coloring Page | Stately Tree Dot-to-Dot

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-happy-birthday-trees-cover

You can find Happy Birthday, Trees! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

 

November 14 – It’s Geography Awareness Week

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday was instituted in 1994 by National Geographic to get people excited about geography and its importance to education and everyday life. As defined by National Geographic, geography is “the study of places and the relationships between people and their environments.” This discipline includes how humans interact with the environment and the impact of location on people. These important questions affect a wide range of issues. More than 100,000 people across the country participate in Geography Awareness Week through special events, focused lessons and activities in classrooms, and attention by government and business policy-makers. To learn more about the week and discover resources for further education, visit the National Geographic website.

Into the Forest: Wander through Our Woodland World

Written by Christiane Dorion | Illustrated by Jane McGuinness

 

Forests, with their stands of ancient, towering trees capped with leafy canopies and thin saplings reaching for their bit of sun are mysterious, awe inspiring, and home to some of the world’s most fascinating creatures. In Into the Forest Christiane Dorion and Jane McGuinness take readers through coniferous forests, deciduous forests, and tropical rainforests around the world to introduce readers to the life found there.

Readers first learn how a single tree grows from a seed to a full-grown beauty and see how the tree is nurtured and how it nurtures insects and animals in return. But a single tree does not make a forest. Children discover the ways in which many trees work together to create a forest and how the creatures attracted to the forest interact as well.

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Image copyright Jane McGuinness, 2020, text copyright Christiane Dorion, 2020. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

“Deciduous forests are found in places where there is plenty of rain and four distinct seasons through the year.” Animals roost in the trees’ trunks, root systems, and branches. “On the forest floor, small creatures snuffle, crawl, or hop under the thick carpet of fallen leaves in search of food and a safe place to shelter.” These trees have distinctive leaves and undergo changes as the seasons change. Like the trees, the animals that live in a deciduous forest also adapt to the weather, the abundance or scarcity of food, and sheltering needs. Readers learn fascinating facts about the ingenuity of the forest’s insects and animals.

After learning about the deciduous forest, readers will want to discover them for themselves. Through lyrical descriptions and charming, realistic illustrations, Dorion and McGuinness show children and adults how and where to look and listen to find the treasures the forest holds. But there can be so many different trees in a forest—or even in a backyard or neighborhood. How do you know which is which? Dorion and McGuinness provide an illustrated guide to the names, shape, size, and type of leaf of twenty deciduous trees.

Across the northern hemisphere, coniferous forests stand tall and stalwart against bitterly cold winters while attracting some of the most majestic creatures in the animal kingdom. “Most trees in the coniferous forest are evergreens with needle-like leaves” that stay green and shed little-by-little all year round. Instead of flowers, coniferous trees produce their seeds in cones. Squirrels and birds, who can use their sharp beaks and acrobatic flying and hanging skills, find food in these cones during long winters.

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Image copyright Jane McGuinness, 2020, text copyright Christiane Dorion, 2020. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

In coniferous forests, the floor is dark, wet, and can be rocky or even frozen year-round. Moss, fungi, lichen, and carnivorous plants are some of the vegetation found here. Readers learn how these plants grow, what they look like, and the animals that thrive on them. How do the forest animals survive the harsh winter conditions? Dorion and McGuinness follow ermine, grouse, a snowshoe hare, bats, chipmunks, bears, and other birds and animals as they navigate their cold home. They then take kids to the west coast to look up, up, up at the mammoth redwoods, some of which “have lived for more than two thousand years.”

There is a wide variety of coniferous trees, and again Dorion and McGuinness present a guide to the size, shape, and type of needles and cones of fourteen trees. And why are evergreens shaped like a triangle? The clever answer to that question is here too.

When you think of colorful birds and animals, you think about tropical rainforests. Dorion and McGuinness. Found near the equator, rainforests are home to “more than half of the know plants and animals in the world” and “more are yet to be discovered.” In a glorious riot of color, climbing vines, vibrant flowers and fruit, Dorion and McGuinness introduce readers to the denizens of these forests, where rain and warm weather provide plenty of food and water; “monkeys leap from tree to tree using their long limbs and gripping tails to move around;” and “screeching macaws, croaking frogs, and howling monkeys make a deafening jungle chorus” to “tell each other where they are in the dense tangle of leaves and branches.”

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Image copyright Jane McGuinness, 2020, text copyright Christiane Dorion, 2020. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Readers will meet animals including the howler monkey, coati, toucan, parrot, poison dart frog, and sloth. Kids also learn about hanging lianas, orchids, and why plants have waxy leaves. All of that vegetation above means that the forest floor is dark and damp, making it the perfect place for some of the world’s most unusual—and feared—creatures, including snakes, spiders, jaguars, the giant centipede, and the Hercules beetle.

Frequent rain is the lifeblood of these tropical forests, and Dorion and McGuinness describe and depict their unique atmosphere as well as the ingenious adaptations some animals use to hide in plain sight and fool predators and the way nighttime transforms the forest into a feeding ground for nocturnal animals. The guide to fourteen tropical trees introduces readers to a wide variety from palm trees to fruit trees, like mango and avocado, to trees that produce nuts, cinnamon, cacao, and chicle for gum.

Dorion and McGuinness close out their book with discussions on how plants, insects, and animals work together to ensure the growth and heath of a forest; the ways in which a forest benefits the planet; and how to plant a tree so that it will thrive. Readers will love the illustrated prompt to find twenty-seven creatures within the pages of the book, giving them an exciting way to turn back to discover all the gems included in the text.

A glossary defines twenty-two terms found in the text, and a list of organizations and links to their websites complete the back matter.

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Image copyright Jane McGuinness, 2020, text copyright Christiane Dorion, 2020. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Christiane Dorion’s beautiful language and richly detailed narration take children into the three types of forests to see and hear how these natural communities of trees, plants, animals, birds, insects, and even weather patterns work together to maintain what are indispensable parts of our earth. The facts Dorion chooses to present will captivate young learners, telling them enough about each subject to educate while sparking a desire to know more. Perfectly paced, her text creates a lovely flow and visual accompaniment to Jane McGuinness’s gorgeous illustrations.

McGuinness astounds on every page with lush images of the various types of forests in warm weather and the coldest of conditions, during daylight and nighttime, during quiet periods and busy times. Her realistically portrayed intense textures, vivid colors, unique shapes, and furtive or carefree movements of nature invite readers into the depths of the forests to truly see what is there.

Lingering over the pages rewards readers with hidden delights, such as tiny animals peeking from the knot hole of a tree, little caterpillars inching their way across leaves, a nest with three eggs secured within the branches of a spring-green tree, and masters of camouflage motionless and nearly undetectable. Spotlighted facts and the intermittent detailed guides to specific trees, creatures, and the science of forests not only teach readers about these particular features but reinforce how nature collaborates to survive and grow.

Superbly conceived, Into the Forest is a must for home, classroom, and public library collections for nature lovers, school and homeschool lessons, and anyone who would like to learn more about our planet.

Ages 7 – 15

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1526600707

Discover more about Christiane Dorion and her books on her website.

To learn more about Jane McGuinness, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Geography Awareness Week Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-wonderful-wildlife-board-game

Wonderful Wildlife Board Game

 

Fascinating animals are found in every part of the world. Play this fun printable Wonderful Wildlife Board Game to match each animal to the area where it lives.

Supplies

Directions

  1. Print a World Map for each player
  2. Print one set of 16 Wildlife Tokens for each player
  3. Print two copies of the 8-sided die, fold, and tape together
  4. If you would like, color the map and tokens
  5. Choose a player to go first
  6. Each player rolls both dice and places an animal on their map according to these corresponding sums of the dice below
  7. The first player to fill their map is the winner!
  • 1 = Flamingo – South America
  • 2 = Emperor Penguin – Antarctica (Southern Ocean)
  • 3 = Giraffe – Africa
  • 4 = Bald Eagle – North America
  • 5 = Ibex – Europe
  • 6 = Kangaroo – Australia
  • 7 = Panda – Asia
  • 8 = Orca – Antarctica (Southern Ocean)
  • 9 = Toucan – South America
  • 10 = Buffalo – North America
  • 11 = Koala – Australia
  • 12 = Lion – Africa
  • 13 = Etruscan Shrew – Europe
  • 14 = Manta Ray – Pacific Ocean
  • 15 = Sea Turtle – Atlantic Ocean
  • 16 = Tiger – Asia

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You can find Into the Forest at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

June 10 – It’s Great Outdoors Month

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About the Holiday

This month-long holiday, expanded from a week-long event to take in the full month of June in 2004, encourages people to get outside and explore. There’s so much to see, from the delicate details of a flower to the wonders of the big open sky. If time permits, take a walk with your kids and really look at what you are passing. When you’re walking with children, stop to examine and talk about the marvels you see. Sometimes the most familiar sights turn out to be the most surprising!

I received a copy of Under My Tree from Blue Dot Press for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own.

By Jakki Licare

Under My Tree

Written by Muriel Tallandier | Illustrated by Mizuho Fujisawa 

 

“There once was a tree different from all the rest.” Most people think trees are all the same, but to Susanne there is no other tree like her tree. Susanne spends her vacations at her Grandma and Grandpa’s country house far away from the city where she lives. Initially, Susanne is scared to walk around the forest near her grandparent’s house because of the fairy tales she’s heard.

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Image copyright Mizuho Fujisawa, 2020, text copyright Muriel Tallandier

But when Susanne goes on a walk with her Grandma in the forest and it starts to rain, they find shelter under a big tree. Susanne feels safe under its canopy and she is not alone. There is a nest of baby owls hiding in the tree too. Susanne convinces her grandmother to have lunch under the tree with the owls.

Susanne visits her tree a lot. Susanne touches the bark and then she hugs it! “That’s the first secret I learned: you have to touch a tree if you really want to talk to it,” Susanne says. The next time she visits the tree, she climbs up all the way to the top and is amazed by the view. On another visit she discovers the tree has grown fruit.

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Image copyright Mizuho Fujisawa, 2020, text copyright Muriel Tallandier

One day it is very windy when she visits her tree and it seems like the whole forest is performing. “My tree sang with her leaves, using the wind as her lungs. The other trees sang back.” Susanne whistles along with the forest. Another time she finds insects all around her tree. In fact, the entire forest teems with life. Next time Susanne brings her best friend Max to meet her tree. Together they create a fort under Susanne’s tree. They use branches from the forest for the walls and moss on the ground as their carpet.

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Image copyright Mizuho Fujisawa, 2020, text copyright Muriel Tallandier

Her tree’s leaves are starting to fall, and Susanne knows that summer is winding down. Susanne will not visit her grandparents often during the winter, but she knows that her tree will be taking a nice long rest. Susanne cannot wait to go back in the spring and watch her tree start to bud.

When Susanne’s mother comes to visit, she introduces her to the tree and they relax together underneath it. Before Susanne goes back to the city, she hugs her tree tightly and takes a leaf as a memento. Susanne may only be able to visit her tree occasionally, but she loves it “…all year long.”

There are eight tree facts and “try this” opportunities spread throughout the book.

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Image copyright Mizuho Fujisawa, 2020, text copyright Muriel Tallandier

This lyrical story is written in first person and will surely make readers fall in love with Susanne’s tree. Many kids will be able to relate to Susanne, who has grown up in the city, and is initially afraid of the forest. As Susanne points out, there are many scary things like witches and wolves in fairy-tale forests. Susanne soon discovers, however, a wonderful natural world in her grandparent’s forest, and she becomes good friends with a special tree. Muriel Tallandier shows us how important trees are, not only in the facts written in the sidebar, but also in the simple ways Susanne enjoys her tree.

Young readers will be interested in Susanne’s exploration of her favorite tree where she climbs, hugs, touches its bark, and watches its leaves change. The “try this” opportunities written in the sidebar will encourage young readers to explore the trees in their own yard, neighborhood, or local park just like Susanne. Under My Tree will certainly convince all children that trees are our friends.

Mizuho Fujisawa’s timeless illustrations depict a fun natural world that is filled with colors, animals, and of course beautiful trees. Her transparent overlapping leaves give the trees depth while maintaining a delicate nature.  The soft blue, green, and yellow palette of the forest invites readers to explore the natural world with Susanne. Fujisawa explores Susanne’s tree from a variety of perspectives. On the windy day, readers are looking up at Susanne and her tree, watching the leaves and her hair blowing in the wind. When her mother comes to visit, readers are looking down on the tree with a bird’s eye view and see the mother and child relaxing under the tree’s leaves. 

Under My Tree is the perfect read to encourage children to get outside and explore nature.  The book would be a favorite addition to home, classroom, and public library collections.

Ages 3-8 years old

 Blue Dot Kids Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1733121231

Discover more about Muriel Tallandier and her book on Blue Dot Kids website.

To learn more about Mizuho Fujisawa, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Great Outdoors Month Activity

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Patterned Transparent Leaf Mobile

 

Recreate Susanne’s tree with your own transparent leaves in a leaf mobile. This is a great pattern and counting activity to do with young children. 

Supplies

  • Paper Plate
  • Scissors
  • Tissue Paper/Crepe Paper
  • Tape
  • String/ Yarn

Directions

  1. Cut out the center circle of the paper plate and use the outside ring as the top of your mobile
  2. Have children pick out colors. We did a fall theme, but you can really let the kids be creative here. 
  3. Cut out tissue paper or crepe paper into leaf shapes. Adults will have to cut out the bulk of leaves. My six year old was able to cut the leaf shapes out, but was tired after 5. I used about 60-70 leaves.
  4. Have children organize leaves into patterns.
  5. Tape leaves together so they overlap. 
  6. Tape chain to paper plate ring
  7. Tie String or yarn to the top of the mobile

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-under-my-tree-cover

You can find Under My Tree at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from 

Bookshop| IndieBound

 

 

 

 

May 16 – National Love a Tree Day

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About the Holiday

 

In the middle of Gifts from the Garden and Garden for Wildlife Month, we celebrate Love a Tree Day. Trees provide so much––for us and for the earth. Trees release oxygen into the atmosphere, give much-needed shade from the sun’s heat, and beautify the land. And their impact doesn’t end there. Trees also inspire art and literature and ingenious solutions, which all come together in today’s book.

Kate, Who Tamed the Wind

Written by Liz Garton Scanlon | Illustrated by Lee White

 

There once was a man who lived in a house on top of very tall, dusty hill. Being so high up, the man’s house captured breezes that set his curtains fluttering and his wind chimes tinkling. Sometimes the wind blew, rattling the shutters, sending the laundry flying from the line, and tearing boards from the house. Inside, the wind whipped, the “table tipped, and the tea spilled.” The man’s hat flew off and out the window, joining the birds who were leaving too.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-kate-who-tamed-the-wind-spilled-tea

Image copyright Lee White, 2018. text copyright Liz Garton Scanlon, 2018. Courtesy of Schwartz & Wade.

The man cried, “What to do?” Down on the sidewalk below, a little girl named Kate caught the man’s hat and the man’s cry too. Kate wanted to help. She “couldn’t stop the wind,” but she knew of something that could slow it down. When she returned the man’s hat, she also brought a wagon full of saplings. Kate and the man planted the trees, and they tended them as they grew—even while the wind blew.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-kate-who-tamed-the-wind-kate-catches-hat

Image copyright Lee White, 2018. text copyright Liz Garton Scanlon, 2018. Courtesy of Schwartz & Wade.

“The trees grew, the wind blew, and the time flew. The time flew as the trees grew…and grew…and Kate did too.” As the trees got bigger, taller, and stronger, the “leaves fluttered,” but the shutters quieted and the board stayed still. Inside, the tea brewed, the dust settled down, and the man’s hat stayed put. Even the birds came back. With the house ringed in trees, Kate and the man enjoyed a picnic in the yard, cooled just enough by the gentle breeze.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-kate-who-tamed-the-wind-planting-trees

Image copyright Lee White, 2018. text copyright Liz Garton Scanlon, 2018. Courtesy of Schwartz & Wade.

Readers will love getting carried away by Liz Garton Scanlon’s breezy lines that through alliteration and rhyme replicate a windy day as things bang, flap, whip, and go flying. As the trees that Kate and the man plant grow and begin to shelter the house from the wind, the rhythm of Scanlon’s text becomes more staccato and rooted. Little Kate is a terrific role model for young readers for her environmental know-how and her stick-to-itiveness as the trees grow from saplings to maturity. The long friendship between the man and Kate is also endearing.

Lee White’s softly hued pages swirl with swipes and swishes that whip curtains, steal laundry, and upend the table and tea. The man’s bewilderment serves as a foil to Kate’s determination and problem-solving, and the difference she makes in the man’s quality of life is evident as the trees grow, their friendship develops, and the wind is finally tamed. Kids will identify with this kind and intelligent child who grows up to be a caring adult.

Beautifully conceived and with lovely details, Kate, Who Tamed the Wind is an environmentally conscious story that will inspire young readers at home and in the classroom.

Ages 4 – 8

Schwartz & Wade, 2018 | ISBN 978-1101934791

Discover more about Liz Garton Scanlon and her books on her website

To learn more about Lee White, her books, and his art, visit his website.

National Love a Tree Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-paper-plate-tree-craft-2

Paper Plate Tree

 

With this easy craft, children can make a tree to decorate their room or to use as a centerpiece for play. 

Supplies

  • Two paper plates 
  • Paper towel tube
  • Brown craft paint
  • Green craft paint (using a variety of green and yellow paints adds interest. Use orange, red, and yellow to make a fall tree.)
  • 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. Straighten the tree so that it can stand up, or hang your tree on a wall, bulletin board, in a window

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-kate-who-tamed-the-wind-cover

You can find Kate, Who Tamed the Wind at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from 

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

 

 

April 24 – Arbor Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-peter-and-the-tree-children-cover

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.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-peter-and-the-tree-children-piet

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.’”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-peter-and-the-tree-children-machine

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.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-peter-and-the-tree-children-Dana

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.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-peter-and-the-tree-children-overlook

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