Seeing the Forest AND the Trees

Book Cover A Forest in the City

A Forest in the City, by Andrea Curtis, illustrated by Pierre Pratt, is the first in Groundwood Books’ new series ThinkCities about sustainability and urban systems. It looks at how trees in the city help mitigate climate change and help us all stay healthy and well. Author Andrea Curtis marks its April publication with a list of books for young people about trees. 

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Trees and nature have provided balm for the stress and anxiety of our lives since, well, forever. But perhaps no more so than in the midst of this pandemic. There can be little that is more soothing than to inhale the smell of green things growing, to gaze up at the swaying branches of a forest and know that these giants persist despite it all. But when self isolation and physical distancing has got your family cooped up, the next best thing might just be reading picture books (fiction and nonfiction) about trees. Here’s a list of some standouts in the category.

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Picture Books

 

The Night Gardener, by Terry Fan and Eric Fan

This fantastical and moving story of a topiary genius, who carves dragons and elephants from the branches of one neighbourhood’s trees, is the first collaboration from the award-winning brothers Terry and Eric Fan. It opens with a little boy named William, who lives in a grey and forlorn-looking orphanage on a grey and forlorn-looking street, waking up to discover someone sculpted an owl from the leaves and branches of a tree outside his window. Slowly, the mysterious gardener shapes local trees into extraordinary creatures, and the boy and his community are also transformed. A beautiful tribute to the power and possibility of nature and art.

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Book Cover Rosario's Fig Tree

Rosario’s Fig Tree, by Charis Wahl, illustrated by Luc Melanson

Author Charis Wahl’s next-door neighbour of 40 years inspired this story of Rosario, an older Italian man with a thriving vegetable garden who astonishes one of his young neighbours with his green thumb. When Rosario decides to plant a fig tree one year, the girl and her family enjoy the squishy purple fruit it bears. But when fall comes, he mysteriously buries the tree. The girl thinks it’s dead and is amazed once again when Rosario the “garden magician” manages to bring it back to life. With witty illustrations by the award-winning Melanson, this is a lovely ode to intergenerational friendship and the magic and mystery of growing things.

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Picture a Tree, by Barbara Reid

Barbara Reid is a master of storytelling using her signature plasticine art, and this gorgeous picture book about the creative possibility in looking at trees is one of her classics. A tree can be so many things, she explains— “a drawing on the sky…a tunnel or an ocean….” With a combination of her colourful and detailed art and simple but evocative words, she reveals the potential in imagination and the wide-reaching influence of nature on our lives.

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In the Tree House, by Andrew Larsen, illustrated by Dušan Petričić

Lots of kids have fantasized about building a fort in a tree where they can escape from the world. The young brothers in Larsen’s sweet and melancholic story manage to do just that, with the help of their father who remembers such yearning from his own childhood. The boys play cards, read comics and try to gaze at the stars, which are obscured by city lights. But the following summer, the younger brother finds himself a reluctant “king of the castle” when his big brother wants to spend his time hanging out with friends. A blackout, however, changes everything. Petričić’s rich and detailed illustrations make living in the trees high above the city streets look particularly idyllic.

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Nonfiction

Nature All Around: Trees, by Pamela Hickman, illustrated by Carolyn Gavin

Part of the Nature All Around series (which include Bugs and this spring’s upcoming Plants), this beautifully illustrated resource is aimed at kids 7-10 and takes an age-appropriate look at the science of trees, their life cycle, photosynthesis and respiration, leaf types and more. It will help young tree lovers identify different species around their homes and offers ideas about how kids can help protect endangered trees. Hickman uses sidebars and lists to keep the text lively and the information accessible.

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Can you hear the trees talking? Discovering the Hidden Life of the Forest, by Peter Wollheben, translated by Shelley Tanaka

This young reader’s edition of The Hidden Life of Trees, an international bestseller by forester and author Peter Wollheben, explores how trees communicate with each other. Using anthropomorphism—he describes “tree classrooms,” “mother trees” and “annoyed” birches—he brings the forest to life. There are quizzes and sidebars, tons of stats and pictures and a strong message about our responsibility to preserve and foster healthy forests—both urban and otherwise.

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Deep Roots: How Trees Sustain Our Planet, by Nikki Tate

The Orca Footprints series about environmental issues are invariably excellent, and Deep Roots is no exception. With lots of powerful photographs, fun facts and tree stories from around the world, Tate provides kids insight into how trees affect our daily lives, history, culture and how they’re in turn affected by pollution, climate change and deforestation. Sidebars titled “Try this!” suggest ideas like slathering a pine cone with peanut butter, stringing it up in front of the window and watching the birds come to dine.

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About A Forest in the City:

“Imagine a city draped in a blanket of green … Is this the city you know?”

This beautiful book of narrative non-fiction looks at the urban forest, starting with a bird’s-eye view of the tree canopy, then swooping down to street level, digging deep into the ground, then moving up through a tree’s trunk, back into the leaves and branches.

It discusses the problems that city trees face such as the abundance of concrete, poor soil and challenging light conditions. It traces the history of trees in cities over time, showing how industrialization and the growth of populations in urban centers led to the creation of places like Central Park in New York City, where people could enjoy nature and clean air. It wasn’t until Dutch Elm disease swept across North America, killing hundreds of thousands of trees, that people realized how important trees are to our cities.

So how can we create a healthy environment for city trees? Some urban foresters are trying to create better growing conditions using specially designed soil trenches or planters, they are planting diverse species to reduce the harm of invasive pests, and they are maintaining trees as they age, among a number of other strategies.

The urban forest is a complex ecosystem, and we are a part of it. Trees make our cities more beautiful and provide shade but they also fight climate change and pollution, benefit our health and connections to one another, provide food and shelter for wildlife, and much more. It is vital that we nurture our city forests.

Includes a list of activities to help the urban forest and a glossary.

April 2, 2020
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