By Christine “Chris” Kramer
“A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” – Greek proverb
We know trees make a difference in our battle with carbon dioxide, but what books about trees will connect with young people? You probably think of Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree—”and the boy loved the tree . . . very much. And the tree was happy.” Or perhaps The Lorax by Dr. Seuss—“I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.”
My personal favorite is about Kate Sessions, who grew up in California in the 1860s. Her story, told in Joseph Hopkins’ The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever, is about how her love of trees was responsible for changing a canyon in San Diego into a lush green park in time for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition. No one thought she could do it, “but Kate did!” And how we love Balboa Park a hundred years later!
Here is an informal list of my favorite tree stories:
Jacqueline Farmer’s book, O Christmas Tree: Its History and Holiday Traditions, recommended for first-grade through fourth-grade students.
Elizabeth Rusch’s book, Zee Grows a Tree, recommended for pre-kindergarten through third grade.
Lori Nichols’ book, Maple, recommended for pre-kindergarten to kindergarten (and especially for expectant parents).
Margi Preus’ book, Celebritrees: Historic & Famous Trees of the World, recommended for second grade through fifth grade. It includes some famous California trees, including Methuselah, a bristlecone pine dating back about 4,800 years, and Hyperion, a coast redwood.
Brian Karas’ book, An Oak Tree Grows, is a time capsule in the life of a tree and our country.
Jeff Gottesfeld’s book, The Tree in the Courtyard: Looking Through Ann Frank’s Window, recommended for second grade through fifth grade.
Jeanette Wangari’s book, Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa, a picture-book biography, recommended for kindergarten through third grade.
Esme Codell and Jane Yolen cover the meaning of a big name in American folklore, respectively, with Seed By Seed: The Legend and Legacy of John “Appleseed” Chapman and Johnny Appleseed: The Legend and the Truth. The first is recommended for kindergarten through third grade; the latter, first grade through fourth grade.
Deborah Hopkinson offers a general look with Apples to Oregon. Recommended for kindergarten through third grade.
JUST FOR FUN:
Roald Dahl’s classic book, Fantastic Mr. Fox, which some readers might know as a Wes Anderson film, about a family of foxes living beneath a great tree.
Read Ellis Carson’s Du Iz Tak? and have a giggle. Recommended for kindergarten through third grade.
A TREE STARS IN THE STORY:
An old red oak tree tells a tale in Katherine Applegate’s Wishtree. Recommended for fourth grade through seventh grade.
A tree is full of life in Neal Layson’s The Tree, recommended for pre-kindergarten through first grade. A perfect book for Earth Day.
Peter Wohlleben, author of The Hidden Life of Trees, shares the true story of how trees communicate, in Peter and the Tree Children. This book is also perfect for Earth Day and recommended for pre-kindergarten through third grade.
Uma Krishnaswami looks at a tree in the way of progress with Out of the Way! Out of the Way! Recommended for kindergarten through third grade.
Joanne Rocklin uses an orange tree as a metaphor for development in a Los Angeles neighborhood with One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street. Recommended for fourth grade through seventh grade.
THE ART OF TREES:
An abandoned book on a subway inspires dreams of dinosaurs and Romans in Jason Chin’s Redwoods. Recommended for kindergarten through third grade.
Verlie Hutchens’ Trees contains free verse poems. Recommended for kindergarten through third grade.
“There is more than one way to picture a tree,” says the narrator in Barbara Redi’s Picture a Tree. Recommended for pre-kindergarten through third grade.
Terry Fan’s The Night Gardener combines creativity with a sense of community. Recommended for pre-kindergarten through second grade.
CONSERVATION AND LIFE CYCLES:
April Pulley Sayre’s Trout Are Made of Trees introduces kindergarten through second-grade students to the concept of the food web.
Kurt Cyrpus’ Trillions of Trees: A Counting and Planting Book teaches pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students about counting and the importance of tree planting and preservation.
Andy Hirsch’s Trees: Kings of the Forest, for fourth grade through sixth grade, is a graphic novel introduction to tree ecology and their importance to the Earth.
Ana Crespo’s Hello Tree, for kindergarten through third grade, gives the point of view of a ponderosa pine in a forest fire.
Lois Ehlert’s Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf, for kindergarten through third grade, can help inspire curiosity about the changing seasons.
Julia Rawlinson’s Fletcher and the Falling Leaves can teach kids in kindergarten through second grade about the changing seasons.
JUST THE FACTS ABOUT TREE ECOLOGY:
Lita Judge’s The Wisdom of Trees: How Trees Work Together to Form a Natural Kingdom, recommended for third grade through fifth grade, combines nonfiction prose and poetry with cutting-edge science about the growth of trees.
Kate Allen Fox tells a story about the interconnectedness of trees for students in kindergarten through second grade in Pando: A Living Wonder of Trees.
Peter Wohlleben gives students in third grade through sixth grade an introduction to the basic since behind how trees work in Can You Hear the Trees Talking? Discovering the Hidden Life of the Forest.
Christine “Chris” Kramer is a longtime resident of San Juan Capistrano and a member of the South Orange County chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby/Education. She and her husband, Larry, have moved 26 times in their married life, including to India (Andhra Pradesh) and Africa (Ghana). She has a MLIS from University of Hawaii and a BA from University of Michigan (Go Blue).