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

February 14 – International Book Giving Day

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About the Holiday

International Book Giving Day was established by Amy Broadmoore and her son and is now celebrated in more than 44 countries. The idea behind the holiday is for people to buy, share, and donate books so that all children can have access to books and know the pleasure and educational benefits of reading. To learn more about today’s holiday, visit the International Book Giving Day website.  You’ll also discover the names of literacy organizations in your country, find tips on ways to get involved, and find bookmarks and bookplates to download. Today, of course, is also Valentine’s Day, and along with the hugs, candy, cards, and fun, giving a book is a wonderful way to show your child how much you love them.

I received a copy of Birdsong from Greystone Books for review consideration. All opinions are my own.

Birdsong

By Julie Flett

 

On a rainy, gloomy day a little girl, Katherena, and her mother pack up their last belongings for a move from their house in a seaside city to the country. Katherena thinks about all the friends and relatives she’ll miss. She thinks about how she’ll miss her “bedroom window and the tree outside. ‘Goodbye, tree friend,” she whispers. They drive past fields and over mountains, stopping to watch a coyote cross the road.

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Copyright Julie Flett, 2019, courtesy of Greystone Books.

Their new home crowns a hill that overlooks a field now dotted with snowdrops. Two trees stand nearby. Inside, Katherena climbs the creaky stairs to her room. She places books, a toy whale, and her drawing supplies on the shelf next to the window and above a small desk “for drawing.” Now, though, her hands are cold and she doesn’t feel like drawing. That night she and her mom “bundle up together under the covers in [their] new home in the country, far from the sea.”

Summer comes and Katherena sits under a tree listening to the “peeps and whistles and ribbits and chirps” and watching her neighbor Agnes working in her yard. Katherena’s mother encourages her to go over and meet her. Katherena takes their dog Ôhô, which “means owl in Cree,” and says hello to Agnes. Agnes has heard a lot about Katherena from her mother––especially that she likes to draw. Agnes makes things out of clay, and as she shows Katherena around, Katherena admires the objects she’s made. “They look like the branches and birds and flowers.” After her visit, Katherena is excited to go home and draw.

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Copyright Julie Flett, 2019, courtesy of Greystone Books.

Throughout the fall, Katherena visits Agnes again and again, helping her with her garden. The weather is turning “cold and windy and creaky. Agnes says she’s getting creaky too.” One day Agnes shows Katherena a round pot she is working on. She talks about the phases of the moon, and Katherena tells her about Cree seasons and that “this month is called pimihâwipîsim—the migrating moon.”

In the winter Ôhô enjoys his first snow, tobogganing with Katherena until they’re both soaked through. Later, Katherena warms up near the fireplace and helps her mother make salmon stew for Agnes. Agnes’s daughter has come to help her mother during the winter. In exchange for the stew, Agnes gives Katherena snowdrop bulbs to plant next fall. Katherena thinks “they look like tiny moons,” which gives her ideas for more drawings.

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Copyright Julie Flett, 2019, courtesy of Greystone Books.

Spring finds Agnes weaker, and Katherena sits on the end of her bed as they listen to the birds singing in the trees and “the tickle of the branches against her window.” When the snowdrops begin to bloom, Katherena wishes Agnes could see them. Suddenly, she has an idea. She gets her drawings from home and with Agnes’s daughter’s help, she papers the walls of Agnes’s room with her drawings of birds, trees, flowers, and other things from nature. Gazing at the walls, “Agnes says it’s like a poem for her heart.”

For the rest of the day, Katherena and Agnes “talk about making things” and sit together in happy silence “until it’s time to say goodbye.” Katherena’s heart is heavy, but she feels fortunate to know Agnes. Later that night, ayîkipîsim, the frog moon, is full.” Her mom and she snuggle up together under the soft blankets. Her hands are warm, and she falls asleep thinking about her friend.

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Copyright Julie Flett, 2019, courtesy of Greystone Books.

Quiet and deep, Julie Flett’s story of a little girl who moves from the city home she knows and loves to a house in the country, where she meets a kindred spirit touches the heart. Generosity, friendship, and acceptance flow through each page as Katherena learns to embrace her new home, a mentoring friend, and the seasons of life. Our connection to the natural world is beautifully represented in Katherena’s drawings, Agnes’s pottery, and the pair’s gardening. Their intergenerational relationship, forged through proximity and similar talents is profound in its calm comfort and heartening love as they teach each other new ways of understanding life—Agnes from her long years of experience and Katherena through her heritage and the lovely Cree words and ideas she shares with her friend.

Simple, earthy details—a coyote on the road, mulch and worms in the garden bed, salmon stew, snowdrops in a field, the phases of the moon—root the story in the common and surprising moments in life that unite us all. Katherena’s mother and Agnes’s daughter provide comforting emotional and physical support while hinting at another cyclical aspect of life.

Flett’s textured illustrations, in soft, muted earth tones, capture the mood, the emotions, and the seasons with a fresh yet traditional feeling that reveals and reflects the story’s themes. The two-page spreads that introduce Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, and Spring again are minimalistic beauties that give readers a moment of reflection before moving on—much like transitional weeks between seasons.

A story that children and adults will take into their hearts, Birdsong belongs on all home, school, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 3 – 8

Greystone Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1771644730

To learn more about Julie Flett, her books, and her art, visit her website.

International Book Giving Day Activity

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Image by Sanne Dufft for International Book Giving Day 2020.

International Book Giving Day Bookmark and Bookplate

 

Celebrate today’s holiday with these book accessories that you can add along with any book you give a child.

International Book Giving Day Bookmark| International Book Giving Day Bookplate

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You can find Birdsong at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review