From their heights, the world spreads before us. (Even when we get stuck at the tip top and have to ask for help getting down.) When a slight breeze blows, walking among rows of evergreens planted by the Civilian Conservation Corps is like strolling through whispers of angels, a gift from heaven. Leaning against the trunk of a single tree can strengthen you; the tree lends you resolve and resilience. Most of all trees hold memories.
With the passing of my sweet Xena, now almost six years ago, two kind-hearted author friends give me a tree with a metal label, Xena's Tree. That tree and label have traveled with me in multiple moves. It is now joined by five other trees, one for each year she has been gone. I am so comforted by the sight of those trees when a dear author friend lost her beloved dog companion, I did the same for her.
Trees freely give to all around them, representing more than we can at first imagine. BE A TREE! (Abrams Books for Young Readers, March 30, 2021) written by Maria Gianferrari with illustrations by Felicita Sala is a lyrical declaration in words and art about the immeasurable worth of trees. It explores the similarities between trees and humans, offering us a pathway to be our best selves.
Be a tree!
Stretch your branches to the sun.
It would be wise for us to root ourselves, be grounded, as are trees. Human spines and tree trunks both house integral elements necessary for sustaining life. Can you think of your skin like bark? I can.
Under the bark are systems upon systems functioning to further growth. At each's center is a beginning beat. At the top, the tree's crown, like our hats, gathers, filters, and protects. What will your leaves do? Together, the top, the bottom, and what hums in the middle, we and trees are not so different.
When you stand in a forest, you see all kinds of trees. Together they work, speaking, sharing, and sustaining each other. Together they help the air we breathe, the soil upon which we stand, and the high winds which howl. Around the globe trees are home to a multitude of plants and animals. Can you name some?
Did you know trees reach out to immigrant trees? No tree regardless of its age or physical condition is ever alone. Trees know helping other trees strengthens them and the forest as a whole. Can we not do the same for our fellow humans?
Every poetic line in this narrative takes readers to a tree. The words penned by Maria Gianferrari mirror the attributes of a tree. They are strong, deeply fixed, and all-encompassing in their reach. Single sentences hold profound truths about trees. In these truths she asks us to see ourselves in the same aspect. Here is a sentence.
Beneath your bark
such as sapwood,
to help you grow bigger
strong as bones
to support you.
When you open the dust jacket you find yourself either gasping or reminding yourself to breathe. The image spans flap edge to flap edge. The tree you see on the front, right, of the jacket spreads to the right edge and nearly across the entire back, left side. The plentiful children with birds among them are both heartwarming and hopeful. You can almost hear the chatter of the gathered girls and boys mingled with birdsong. On the back, left, is a single white bird. Two children, hand in hand, in the grass are watching it. The grass, roots and communicative fungi end at the flap edges. On the heavy matte-finished paper all the children and birds are vanished. In a word, exquisite.
An interior image of a large ancient tree spreads across the book case. A child in reading among the gigantic roots. Another is climbing up a rope, as a third one rests a hand on the tree. Two people are seated in a bench to the right of the tree with a large red balloon tied to the back. Two birds rest in the branches of the tree.
The opening and closing endpapers are a botanist's delight. In two shades of green, they feature twenty different leaves and three seeds. Each one is carefully labeled. Portions of these endpapers are repeated on the first and final page turns. Prior to the title page, two children play on the sprawling large branch of a tree. The boy awaits the girl climbing up a rope ladder.
A double-page image moves from left to right on a crisp white background for the title page. In a series of five vignettes, we see a child plant a seed. It grows, grows, grows, and becomes a tree, roots fanning out below the surface.
These illustrations by Felicita Sala rendered
with watercolor, gouache, and colored pencils
are bold but intricate two-page displays with every page turn. A variety of trees are represented. Perspectives shift and ask readers to pause, noticing each item contained in the picture. The four-page gatefold is stunning in the variation between the previous two-page visual and what is revealed. This is the goal toward which we must endeavor.
One of my many, many favorite illustrations has a wide trunk taking up half the page on either side of the gutter. It only fills the top third of the image. Climbing up the bark on the left side is a tiny snail. On the right side a girl crouches next to a snail, her fingertip reaching to touch it. For the bottom two-thirds of the picture, we see a vast network of roots and fungi. Three animals are burrowing among the roots and dirt.
This book, BE A TREE! written by Maria Gianferrari with illustrations by Felicita Sala, presents the grandeur of trees and their vital place on our planet. It invites us to learn what they can teach us. At the close of the book is an Author's Note, Five Ways You Can Help Save Trees, Be A Forest: How You Can Help In Your Community, two pages dedicated to a graphic and textual Anatomy Of A Tree, Further Reading And Viewing and Websites. You need to make sure you have a copy of this book on both your personal and professional bookshelves.
To learn more about Maria Gianferrari and Felicita Sala and their other work, please follow the link attached to their names to access their websites. Maria Gianferrari has accounts on Facebook and Instagram. Felicita Sala has accounts on Facebook and Instagram. This book is highlighted at Beagles and Books, Picture Book Builders, and Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. At Beagles and Books is a list of blog tour stops. At each site you can view interior images.
Maria Gianferrari has climbed fig trees in Italy, stood under stately coastal redwoods and twisted Torrey pines, marveled at mitten-shaped sassafras leaves, colorful coral trees and sawtooth oak acorn nests. She lives with her family, including dog, Maple, in a house encircled by trees.