Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Tiny To Tree-mendous

They are absolute to life on the planet providing much needed oxygen.  They supply homes, food, vantage points, and protection for a multitude of beings.  Water is necessary for their survival but they in turn protect the land when there is an overabundance of moisture.   If we watch, they reflect the status of our weather and of our climate.   

Numerous countries around the world at various times during the year set aside a day to celebrate the planting of these plants for the planet.  The Arbor Day Foundation in the United States has an initiative, The Time for Trees, to plant 100 million trees by 2020.  This week the country of Ethiopia made headlines when they planted 350 million trees in twelve hoursTrees: A Rooted History (Abrams Books for Young Readers, April 9, 2019) written by Wojciech Grajkowski with artwork by Piotr Socha, and translation by Anna Burgess is a captivating exploration of everything about and related to trees.

Trees are the largest living things on Earth.  Next to a giant sequoia tree, a human being looks very small.  Even the dinosaurs that once lived on our planet could hide in its shadows!  Trees can be very old, too.  Some species can live for hundreds or even thousands of years.  Only a few humans live to be a hundred years old, but for most trees, a hundred years is just the beginning of their life.  An old oak tree alive today might have been living before your great-grandfather was born and might even live longer than your great-grandchildren.

With this first paragraph of four introducing us to the world of trees, we are swept up in the factual conversation.  Trees are defined from their trunk, to their branches and to their leaves.  Each year of life in a tree is marked by a ring seen when the tree is cut.  Not all trunks are formed the same.  One in particular is formed from a bundle of thin roots.  Leaves, in a variety of shapes and sizes, work with the roots to maintain the life of a tree.  Roots will do whatever it takes to stabilize the tree and work to gain essential elements.  Some roots look like stilts.  Others, like the red mangrove, come to the surface to get oxygen.  Did you know there is a tree, The Great Banyan, in Howrah, India with at least 3,700 tree trunks?

Trees have different functions in different seasons.  The loss of leaves keeps trees alive in winter and during the dry season.  Trees usually prefer their seeds to be planted away from the original tree so there is no competition for resources.  Birds consume seeds and they are planted through elimination.  Some seeds are not released except under extreme heat. Did you know the sandbox tree has fruit which explodes under certain conditions distributing the seeds over a wide range?

Endemic species of trees only grow in specific places set apart from the rest of the world.  The Pennantia baylisiana is only found on Three Kings Islands close to New Zealand.  There is one tree left, a female but through scientific procedures the seeds were able to be pollinated.  Amazing!  An entire section is devoted to baobabs.  Can you imagine one big enough to house a pub?

Trees are restaurants for all kinds of animals, insects, reptiles, mammals and even fungus. They are homes for mammals, insects, spiders, amphibians, and reptiles.  Each specie has a characteristic allowing it to access what trees offer as residences.  In that same respect trees provide protection when species mimic the trees' physical traits.  They can look like bark, branches, sticks, or leaves.  Did you know there is a butterfly which looks bright and alluring to attract a partner but when necessary lifts its wings to the underside to be drab and brown?

There is evidence of trees living millions of years ago.  We find their stories in fossils and in places like the petrified forest in Gilboa, New York.  The tallest trees in the world are the redwoods found on the western coast of the United States.  These and others are compared to manmade structures like the Statue of Liberty, Big Ben, The Great Pyramid and an ordinary single-story home.  Did you know the broadest tree grows in a church courtyard?

The age of trees is astounding.  There is one believed to be more than 80,000 years old.  From the rings of trees, we can pinpoint times in history when they were alive.  We then read and branch into lumberjacks and the tools of their trade, ancient buildings still standing constructed of wood, forms of transportation made of wood, wooden masks, wooden instruments and treehouses.  The art of bonsai and topiary are discussed.  The use of trees to explain evolution and families is presented along with trees in religion and myths, and stories.  We are left with the power of trees to sustain and thrive, how they function best as natural forests rather than planted by humans and how we must carefully consider the consequences of cutting down a tree.

Author Wojciech Grajkowski holds a doctorate in biology and lives in Warsaw, Poland.  His knowledge, dedication and enthusiasm for his subject is evident by the text containing the most interesting facts about the aspects of trees covered in this book.  The research necessary to furnish readers with this information is extensive.  Here is another passage translated by Anna Burgess.

However, there are even older trees in the world.  Pando, a quaking aspen in the state of Utah, is estimated to be at least 80,000 years old.  Pando is both a single tree and an entire forest at the same time.  It grew from a single seed, and new shoots began to grow up from its root system.  These shoots turned into new trunks, the roots kept spreading, and today this huge tree colony covers over 106 acres.  It is the heaviest living thing in the world.

The illustrative artwork by Piotr Socha as seen on the open book case is highly detailed and depicts many of the topics covered in this title.  As shown on the book case, a realistic color palette is used.  On the UK version of this book, a close-up of a tree being from folktales is featured on the front.  Those walking and talking trees as depicted in an interior image are moving toward the reader on the back of the case.  Both cases promise to inform and entertain.

On the opening and closing endpapers on a dark background rows of tiny trees and leaves create a pattern.  One of the treehouses similar to those found in West Papua is showcased on the initial title page.  On the formal title page people stand around a baobab tree.  They are like ants in comparison.

Each page turn is a design delight beginning with a Mexican "tree of life".  We see trees from around the world, cross-sections of trunks, leaves, root systems, a display of seeds, four pages of endemic species, baobabs, tree eaters and dwellers, camouflagers, and prehistoric trees.  Items are carefully labeled.  When discussing the tallest and broadest trees, contrasts present visual understanding.  The slice of an old tree with rings and points in history is graphic excellence.

The wooden buildings, modes of transportation, instruments and treehouses are portrayed authentically as are the bonsai and topiary. There is a bit of humor in some of the illustrations.  It is represented by the eyes on the humans and the animals.  All the illustrations span two pages for each dedicated topic with area remaining for a column on the left or right for the narrative.  Two fine lines, one darker than the other, frame the images.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is for the subject, The Four Seasons. In the center is a large circular cross-section of dirt with roots stretching and intermingling.  Twelve trunks spread around and out from the ground on those two pages.  They are shown in all four seasons.  Different colored leaves are placed between the trunks.  Beyond the crowns of the trees are leaves and seeds from the various trees.  It's a breathtaking display of a circle of life.

Trees: A Rooted History written by Wojciech Grajkowski and translated by Anna Burgess with art by Piotr Socha is a stunning work of nonfiction.  For a dedicated tree person or anyone wanting to browse a portion at a time, this book is highly recommended for your personal and professional collections.  Readers will be coming back to this book repeatedly.  (I had to have both the US and UK versions for my collection.)

To learn more about Piotr Socha and Wojciech Grajkowski, please access the publisher's website.  At Thames & Hudson you can view interior illustrations. You might enjoy this BBC video about the African Great Green Wall.

Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the titles selected this week by other participants in the 2019 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

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