By Mindy Rhiger
In 1872, J. Sterling Morton proposed that a special day be set aside for the planting of trees. We know that day as Arbor Day, or the last Friday in April. One way to celebrate is to learn more about trees, and there is no shortage of great books to choose from.
Since April is also National Poetry Month, it seems appropriate to start with a book of tree poems. Old Elm Speaks by Kristine O’Connell George just may change the way you look at the trees you see. Some of the poems are from the trees’ perspectives. Some are from the eyes of the people who loves the trees. I guess I’m a city girl at heart because my favorite of the bunch was “Street Tree,” which was accompanied by an illustration of one lonely tree in the middle of a sidewalk. ”So meek and polite, / no one knows that / when all the cars go home– / when I’m standing here, alone– / I dream wild. / I am forest.”
Get to know some real tree-heroes in Celebritrees: Historic and Famous Trees of the World by Margi Preus. Each spread features a tree (fourteen in all) from either history or legend with facts and stories. Because every tree has a story, after all. Some trees have lived a very long time, like the Methuselah Tree. Others have reached great heights, like Hyperion. Still others, were simply close by when something significant happened, like the bohdi tree under which the Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment. These are the sorts of celebrities, we’d like our children to know.
Another tree-related hero you will want your children to know is the subject of a picture book biography in Wangari’s Trees of Peace by Jeanette Winter. Wangari Maathai won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her work with the Green Belt Movement in Kenya. This book follows her life from when she was a small child living in a beautiful, green country to when she returned to her country as a young adult after going to college in the United States. Kenya was not the same country she remembered. The trees had been chopped down, and she feared the country would become a desert. She began planting and encouraging the women of Kenya to plant trees. Jeanette Winter’s colorful folk-style illustrations keep the focus of the story on Wangari and her trees for an inspiring book.
In Ida B by Katherine Hannigan we are introduced to a girl who talks to trees. Ida B has grown up on her family’s orchard. She has always homeschooled, and she has a special relationship with the trees. But things are changing for her family. When her mother gets sick, she has to go to public school, and they have to sell some of their land. It’s a lot for Ida B to deal with all at once, and she isn’t happy about any of it. Ida B is a character to love. I highly recommend this book to fourth and fifth grade girls, especially. It may also make a good family read-aloud.
Happy Arbor Day!