Last summer our next-door neighbor cut down a couple of old apple trees in her yard. It was a sad experience for us because we loved to watch the squirrels and birds in those trees, plus we really enjoyed the shade they provided. It's been a year and while our own trees are flourishing now that the bigger ones aren't blocking the sun, we still miss those old trees. Sprout asks about them at least once a week, as in his comment this morning that, "You know, I can't tell why someone would just cut a tree down for nothing." (Me either, kid.)
Fortunately we had a little treasure hiding in the library basket that helped us talk through our thoughts about trees. Barbara Reid's Picture a Tree is a lovely, lyrical celebration of trees and all the ways we can see them. Reid describes how we encounter trees and how we might view them, as though they are characters in our personal stage-play of life. There are some really clever juxtapositions of illustration and phrase, resulting in a lot of subtle humor. The prose is spare, each sentence carefully constructed to relay Reid's message with no unnecessary words. As we read this one, we often had to stop and take in the meaning Reid was trying to impart, a trait of the best picture books, in my opinion.
I love the emphasis on diversity here - not only does Reid show us trees of all varieties and stages, but she also includes a multi-ethnic population as varied as the trees themselves. That's a great bonus for books like these, where race isn't the driver of the story and people are just people, unique to themselves. Plus the illustrations here are just marvelous. Reid uses a technique where she molds Plasticine to make her scenes, and blends in paint for effect. The result is really tremendous to see - it reminds me somewhat of those old clay-mation films of my childhood, because you honestly feel like Reid's characters are going to jump off the page, they're that expressive. That just adds so much depth to the overall message of Picture a Tree, broadening the kid-appeal even more.
This is a nice title to share with even the youngest children, to include in units about the seasons or nature, or just to browse through yourself. Adults will get the shades of meaning and humor, but kids will love this title too (Sprout definitely did, enough that we've had to keep renewing our library copy). Colorful and thoughtful, warm and expressive, Picture a Tree is just the thing to help young explorers understand all that trees are and can be - and to get them thinking about how we see things in very different ways.
Picture a Tree by Barbara Reid, published by Albert Whitman & Company
Sample: "There is more than one way to picture a tree. / You may see a drawing on the sky. / A game of dress-up. / The first drops of color. . . then all the art supplies at once."