Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Within One, Thousands...

When learning to count, one comes first.  It's a beginning.  The true value of one can be found in the difference one year, month, day, hour or second can make in shaping lives.  We have often requested to do something one more time.  We know there is one thing we never want to happen again.  One person or one dog can impact our life choices or make our lives worth living.

In her most recent nonfiction publication Kate Messner explores the power of one.  Tree of Wonder: The Many Marvelous Lives of a Rainforest Tree (Chronicle Books, August 11, 2015) with illustrations by Simona Mulazzani takes us where many of us will never visit.  It's a journey of discovery multiplying with every page turned.

Deep in the forest, in the warm-wet green, ONE ALMENDRO TREE grows, stretching its branches toward sun.

Eleven life forms are descriptively introduced in poetic paragraphs.  Further astonishing facts follow in a separate portion of the page.  When more than one million blossoms appear on a single tree in one year, it's a tree worth investigating.

This tree will be a permanent home for the same couple year after year; a duo of birds who mate for life.  Another flock finds the fruit here enticing.  You might see keel-billed toucans using their bills to throw fruit to their branch pals.

The largest monkeys in Latin America can be heard loud and clear as they warn other howler monkeys to stay away from one particular almendro tree.  The distance from which this sound can be heard is astounding.  Night feeders become unknowing gardeners, dropping the seeds from the almendro tree.  Will they be planted later?

Perhaps it would be a good idea to not be near the most venomous snake in Costa Rica when the babies are born; fifty, one-foot long squirmers.  Even the rain forest has hoarders.  The agoutis must be busy.

A delicate butterfly can mimic a deadly foe.  Caring parents making many trips seek shelter in the tree's leafy dens.  Unsuspecting frogs need to beware of the lurking spider hiding in its lair.  It's hard to picture but leafcutter ants can live with from three to four other leafcutter ants in colonies under the ground.  They can nearly deplete the leaves on a tree in twenty-four hours but nature has a way for them to help too.

From one to one thousand, twenty-four we count the ways this tree supplies life to the forest.  From flowers to fruit, on branches, within the bark, among leaves and on the ground below, it gives.  It's easy to understand why...

In Latin America, the almendro tree is known as the "tree of life," ... .

When Kate Messner writes nonfiction she does so with diligence and meticulous research.  She first brings us into the experience with sensory perceptions.  We are then privy to mind-boggling specific aspects about each plant, bird, mammal, reptile, insect, amphibian and arachnid.  Her technique of having the numbers mentioned double puts an intriguing mathematical spin on the information.

A sun-kissed sky, pale in the background, glows against the bright bold colors of rain forest dwellers on the image spanning from left to right, back to front, on the matching dust jacket and book case.  With no effort whatsoever you can hear the boisterous howler monkeys, the chatter of the great green macaws and keel-billed toucans.  If you are the bark on the tree you can feel the flutter of passing butterflies and soft-padding of persistent frogs.  Silhouettes of the mentioned creatures are patterned in two hues of green on the opening and closing endpapers.

A rhythm, like breathing, is created with the illustrations crossing the gutter from left to right leaving a half page for a column in which the informative text appears.   Above this a number tops the etched images of the animals; 16 with sixteen fruit bats beneath, 32 with thirty-two fer-de-lance below and 64 with sixty-four agoutis in rows.  The background colors in these columns change to reflect the pictures to the left.

Rendered in acrylic and pencil Simona Mulazzani details her paintings with a realistic quality using soft, sure brush strokes.  No matter the time of day or night or location, she brings us into the world of the almendro tree with her shifts in perspective.  It's interesting to note the leafcutters are shown in more than one image reinforcing their continual work.

One of my favorite pictures is of the great green macaws.  A pair is inside their nest hole, two eggs next to them.  We are inside the nest with them looking outside at other birds resting on branches and flying near the almendro tree.

Tree of Wonder: The Many Marvelous Lives of a Rainforest Tree written by Kate Messner with illustrations by Simona Mulazzani is a stellar work of nonfiction in a picture book format.  The text and images work immediately to engage readers and inspire further investigation.  I've already looked up the average size of rusty wandering spiders.  One fact leads us to another which is exactly as it should be.  At the close of the book a discussion about the almendro tree with links to three organizations is provided.  There are several pages with challenging Rainforest Math. We are invited to read additional books and view a documentary.

To learn more about Kate Messner and her other work follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  I was most happy for her when reading this tweet.

Kate Messner chats with teacher librarian Matthew C. Winner on his Let's Get Busy Podcast #176 about this title. 

The link attached to Simona Mulazzani's name takes you to an artist's website where her work is featured.  You can view more illustrations from this title at the publisher's website.  One of her newly illustrated books was highlighted at author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast recently.

It's a pleasure each week to participate in the 2015 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by educator Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy.  Please stop by to see the other titles selected this week by bloggers.


  1. Oh my, my - this looks like a must read. I will be searching for this book the next time I am at the bookstore!

    1. It's your kind of book Carrie. Let me know if you can't find a copy. I would be willing to send you mine.