Monday, April 5, 2010

We Planted a Tree

By Diane Muldrow, illustrated by Bob Staake

Golden Books, 2010

$17.99, ages 4-8, 40 pages

You don't need to plug it in. All you do is plant it and give it water. A tree, one of the most efficient air cleaners we have, and perhaps the most sublime.

In this rosy, exuberant book, author Muldrow and award-winning illustrator Staake celebrate the simple act of planting a tree and get us energized to plant one too.

The story follows two families of four, one from a typical American city, the other from rural Kenya, as they nurture a sapling and follow its growth through the years.

From the moment each family buries the root ball, their eyes and smiles grow wide and joyous, reflecting all of the possibility that the trees hold.

Each day sunshine pours onto leaves, bringing food to the trees, and soon plump buds appear at the tips of branches and pink blossoms spring open.

As summer settles in, the American children sit under a cooling canopy of leaves beside their napping dog; the branches are like broad shoulders and it feels as though the tree watches over for them.

Across the world, the Kenyan family tends a vegetable garden they've planted near their tree. They know the tree will keep soil from blowing away and help rainwater collect in the ground, and are thankful to the tree for helping them grow their own food.

At times the story cuts away from the two families to show other people and animals enjoying the splendor of trees, thus widening the celebration.

In a big city greenway, a broad tree shadows the path of joggers and horse-drawn carriage, as children run around a baseball diamond surrounded by trees that help to cleanse their air (a wonderful opportunity to explain to kids how trees remove the heat-trapping gas carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and use it to make wood for their growth).

Then on the next page, an elderly lady gazes at the beauty of her Grecian coast as workers fill baskets with apples, oranges -- and lemons -- from her trees.

(Those familiar with Staakes' New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Book The Red Lemon and his acclaimed book The Donut Chef will be charmed by Muldrow's reference to lemons and the image of a roly-poly baker carrying a cake into the garden.)

Best Parts: The energy that builds from one illustration to the next propels our excitement about planting a tree, and by the time we see a girl swing from a stout old tree near the end of the book, our hearts are filled with awe.

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