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the lorax

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It was just a matter of time until I got around to this one... today's storybook is the save-the-trees classic from Dr. Suess, The Lorax.


Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I will say that this is not my favorite Dr. Seuss book. I don't remember ever reading it as a kid and it seems a little overly preachy to me reading it now. But then again, my favorite Seuss book was The Sneetches, whose story about having "stars upon thars" is no less preachy than the Lorax, so I'm not going to quibble. Plus, I never could resist a good Seuss rhyme!

The Lorax has this long, strange, dark opening where a young boy discovers the home of the Once-ler at the far end of town and tries to get him to tell his story. The Once-ler's story is the history of this desolate place "where the wind smells slow-and-sour...and no birds ever sing except old crows." As the Once-ler begins his tale, the landscape is transformed into a place full of color and fantastical Seuss creations: "It all started way back... Way back in the days when the grass was still green.... And I first saw the trees! The Truffula Trees!"


Way back then, the Brown Bar-ba-loots lived in the shade of the Truffulla trees and the Humming-Fish hummed in the rippling pond. But this book is really about the trees. "Those trees! Those Truffulla trees! All my life I'd been searching for trees such as these."

The Once-ler knew just what to do with those trees.


Why chop them down and knit a Theed, of course! You may be asking, what is a theed? That's just the question the Lorax had. He popped up right out of the stump and demanded to know just what "you've made of my Truffula tuft."


The Lorax speaks for the trees, you see, because they cannot speak for themselves. He asks the question he would like us to consider: just what is so important that someone would cut down a tree to make it? The Once-ler doesn't have a very good answer. He replies that "A Theed's a Fine-Something-That-All-People-Need!" He doesn't really know what people will use it for, but if they'll pay money for it, that's all he needs.

I really like Seuss's play on the idea of need here. What do we really need? Do we need a Theed? Do we need all the many things we make out of trees? Is it mere greed that we confuse for need? Is is possible that we might need trees more than Theeds? The Once-ler isn't thinking about any of these things. All he sees is that money grows on those trees: "Here's a wonderful chance for the whole Once-ler Family to get mighty rich!"


As his Theed factories grow larger, the sound of the singing Swomee-Swans is replaced by the sound of the chopping of trees and the cries of the Lorax. You see, the Bar-ba-loots need the Truffula fruits and the Humming-Fish need water that isn't so smeary. So off they must go in search of a new home.


 "BUT business is business," replies the Once-ler. And Business must get bigger. That is what it needs.


It needs more and more Theeds, more and more trees, more and more needs. Until there are no more trees and no more need for Theeds.

When the last Truffula tree was gone, the Once-ler family packed up and left the Once-ler alone in the dreary place he'd made. The Lorax left him too. He watched his buildings fall apart and watched the Grickle-Grass grow. I guess Grickle-Grass is really a weed, something that no-one needs and absolutely no good for making Theeds.

The Once-ler has had a lot of time to think about those things the Lorax said so long ago. And now that the boy has come, the Once-ler understands. "Truffula trees are what everyone needs." And he throws down the last of the Truffula seeds. 


 Yes, we need the trees. But only the Lorax understood what the trees need. They need someone to speak for them. They need us. "UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not."

Alright, you know what you need to do....

a tree is nice

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I was away over the weekend, so we're having a special edition of Saturday story time on Monday. And on a special note: this is my 100th post here on the tree blog! We're only in mid-June and still have summer and fall to see, so I hope we'll have a hundred more posts before this blog has run its course. But now, on to the story...

This week's story, A Tree Is Nice by Janice May Udry and illustrated by Marc Simont, won the Caldecott Medal in 1957. It looks at trees from a child's perspective, explaining their appeal in a child's terms. Why do we like trees, the book asks. Well, trees are nice.


 They fill up the sky.


And make everything beautiful.


Even one tree is nice.


Because it has leaves that whisper in the summer breeze and then fall into playful piles in autumn.

A tree is nice because we can climb it, we can swing in it, and we can sit in its shade.


A tree is nice for a house too.


But most of all, a tree is nice to plant.


You say to people, "I planted that tree." They think that's nice, so they go home and plant a tree too.

Have you ever planted a tree? I think that's something the tree blog needs to do before we're through.

sky tree

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Story time is back! After last week's field trip to the art museum, I thought it would be nice to read Sky Tree: Seeing Science Through Art by Thomas Locker.


In the his introduction, Locker explains, "Through storytelling, art appreciation, and scientific exploration, Sky Tree attempts to reach both the heart and the mind." The following pages depict the same tree in the same location, but as the sky and the seasons change, the scene is transformed.

It all begins with a tree alone on a hill in the summertime.


Locker asks, "When you look at this painting...can you remember how you felt on a perfect summer day?" He poses one question on each page to help kids think about how the painting makes them feel about the tree or the sky or the seasons. He encourages kids to really look at and experience the paintings, rather than just say, hey there's the tree again. (And isn't that what we do when we see trees every day: we walk on past without really looking at them?)


"What makes this painting different?" asks Locker. How has the tree changed? How has the sky changed? How would it feel to stand under this tree now? What do you think is going to happen next?


"Is the tree dying?" he asks. No, it's just losing its leaves like so many trees do in the fall. "Why does this painting make you feel sad?" Locker wonders. It is sad to see the leaves falling from the tree leaving only bare twigs behind, but we know they'll be back just like we know that spring and summer will be back. In time.


"How does this painting capture the stillness of a snowy day?" I love the quiet after a snowstorm when there no cars on the road and footsteps are silent in the snow. Don't you? I also love it when icicles form around the branches turning sleeping trees into crystal sculptures. 


"How does this painting show that winter is ending?" Like the painting on the cover of the book, Locker really plays with the outline of the tree on the sky here. Although the tree is bare, the clouds behind it blocking the sun suggest the leaves that will soon be there to make shade for a picnic.


"Does this painting make you feel hopeful?" The sunrise here is beautiful. In the back of the book Locker briefly discusses each of the paintings. For this one he says, "This painting almost makes you squint." It's so true! It reminds me of studying my tree this spring. Looking up at the early leaves, I had to squint to see the new tiny bits of green in the bright sun. 


"Now the tree is full and round again." The tree has returned to the way it was on that first summer day. But is the picture exactly the same? Is the tree exactly the same from year to year? I wonder what has changed. How have you changed in the last year?

The final painting in the book is called the sunset tree. Locker uses it to talk about the connection between the tree and the sky, asking kids to think about why the book is called Sky Tree. The tree is painted entirely in shadow, so the focus shifts to the sky and its brilliant colors, full of light and power and magic.  


There's one more amazing image of trees and sky that you have to see! Check out Frans Lanting's photo of Camel Thorn trees from a recent issue of National Geographic. The surreal orange sky makes the photo look like a painting! This article talks about the photo and contains more stunning images from the same photographer. And there are even more photos of the beautifully strange landscapes in Namibia's Namib-Naukluft National Park here. (Thanks to Paul for the link!)

from seed to maple tree

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This week I went looking for a book to help me answer some of my questions about the keys on my maple tree. I found From Seed to Maple Tree by Laura Purdie Salas, which is one book in a series of books for kids on different life cycles, including From Seed to Apple Tree, From Seed to Pine Tree, From Caterpillar to Butterfly, and From Tadpole to Frog.


I found the book in our local library. It's one of a dozen or so kids books that explain the basics of how trees develop. I found the pictures most appealing in this book. Jeff Yesh is the illustrator for the entire the Life Cycle series and his pictures are big and bright, filling the whole page with color.

Salas begins by telling us that trees have life cycles too just like the animals.


Every tree starts as a seed.


The maple tree, she tells us, grows about 1 foot each year and is called a seedling until it is 2 meters tall. After 30-40 years it becomes a mature tree. Its growth slows down and it begins to produce flowers. (Note: the maple tree in this book is a sugar maple, so its flowers look a little different from the bright green flowers that appeared on my Norway maple.)


From Salas's description, it seems that the sugar maple is a monoecious tree, which means that one tree will have both male and female flowers. In fact, one flower may have both male and female parts. (After doing a little research, I found out that the Norway maple is like the ash tree and can be either monoecious or dioecious.) However the boy and girl flowers are arranged, pollen from the male parts is brought over to the female parts, with a little help from the birds and the bees, and you get fruit!


The book confirms that these little winged helicopter thingies are indeed the fruit of the maple tree. In the sugar maple, you can really see the two seeds in the large green section of the samara. The Norway maple fruit is a little different. It's all green and, as we discovered a couple of weeks ago, has a wider wingspan. Here's a picture one of the hundreds that have recently fallen off of the tree in front of my house.


Salas explains that the maple fruit ripens on the tree and should fall from the tree in the fall. This makes me think that the samaras falling from all the Norway maples around me aren't ripe yet. Someone should tell them that, because they are everywhere! Apparently, the seeds need to hide in the fallen leaves to keep from being eaten by squirrels and birds.


The book also explains that the seed has a better chance of developing into a new tree when it flies away from the parent tree. It seems to me that most seeds just fall straight down and so I've often wondered why there aren't just a million little baby trees under each mature tree. It turns out that the parent tree is using up all the nutrients in the soil right there, so the seed needs to travel somewhere else to find a place with enough water and food to grow. And then the cycle can begin again.

And now I've got to share with you the coolest website I found while looking for some info on tree flowers and fruit. It's Bob's Brain on Botany and is full of amazing, close-up pictures of tree flowers, including the sugar maple and the Norway maple. There's also a whole page with pictures of tree droppings (Yay, I love tree droppings!). Finally, he has an amazing section on tree flowers and fruit...

from Ohioense: Bob's Brain on Botany

... which includes everything you ever wanted to know about flower sex and an overview of a variety of different tree fruits -- all with cool roll-over graphics! I'm off to learn more....


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This Saturday's storybook is Poetrees by Douglas Florian. I love Florian's many books of poems and drawings for children! They are usually themed around a type of animal (like his Insectlopedia and Dinothesaurus) and contain brief, witty and often insightful poems accompanied by colorful and evocative paintings. I wondered if Florian had ever done a book on trees, so I looked online and, sure enough, he did, just last year!


Florian has designed this book to be read vertically. The cover actually opens up to reveal his painting for a poem on leaves.


All the poems inside are arranged on the page this way. Trees, Florian seems to be saying, cannot be depicted in the standard horizontal format. I agree. His long, vertical paintings give his trees the sense of height that is such a huge part of our actual experience of trees. One beautiful example is on the table of contents page.


Florian often uses a lot of fun word play in his poems that kids enjoy. This book is no exception. Almost every poem contains a joke or tree pun, which he sometimes emphasizes in bold or italics. Here is a cute example from the inside book cover.


Look for the word play in the following poems! The first two recall trees we saw last week when we read Celebritrees. There's a Giant Sequoia.


"Never destroy a / Giant sequoia."

There's also a Bristlecone Pine, like Methuselah, the world's oldest tree.


"For fifty cen-trees I'm alive."

And then there's my favorite in the book, the Yew.


"Yews are spooky; gloomy too. / Yew've got one behind yew-- / Boo!"

I love the glowing colors around the sequoia and the squiggly lines that define the pine and the yew. They reveal the vitality and movement in trees that we tend to overlook. On his website, Florian describes his own work in terms that could also refer to this secret aspect of trees: "My drawings are movingly still, but still moving."

More than just fun, his poems always cleverly convey some real information about their subjects. This book even contains a "glossa-tree" (glossary) at the end with more tree facts.


Check out a couple more poems from the book on Florian's blog: Paper Birch and Dragon Tree. And then check out some more of his books. They're tree-mendous!


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Good morning! It's a beautiful sunny day here in Brookline and every tree I can see from my window is covered in green leaves! It's a perfect day to celebrate trees with a story. Today we'll read about some famous trees in Celebritrees: Historic and Famous Trees of the World by Margi Preus.


is a cute book about famous trees from all over the world (and beyond!). It starts with a little introduction: "Trees are the oldest, biggest, and tallest living organisms on earth.... Here are fourteen Celebritrees, trees so beloved they have earned names for themselves.... Each tree has a story to tell."


The first tree is Methuselah, "the oldest known single living organism on earth." Preus tells us that at 4,800 years old, it has seen over 1.75 million sunrises and was already 2,000 years old when the work on the Great Wall of China began! That's old. In order to protect the tree, there are no pictures of it. It lives in a grove of many similar trees and is not identified.

Next up is "the biggest inhabitant of earth," the giant sequoia General Sherman. (Follow this link to see a picture that really gives you a sense of how enormous the tree is!) 


At over 2,000 years old, it's no spring chicken either. Preus explains that many of its branches are bigger than the biggest trees in the Eastern US. It weighs as much as 10 blue whales and, she adds, is still growing!

The Tule Tree in Tule, Mexico is supposedly the widest tree in the world. (Follow this link to see a picture of its trunk which is as big as a house!) Its trunk is covered with fascinating knots that resemble animals and monsters.


The other trees in the book have interesting histories. The Bodhi Tree in Sri Lanka is about as old as General Sherman but it is not famous for being large.


"Bo" is the fig tree under which the Buddha sat when he gained enlightenment. There are actually several Bodhi trees. The original tree was in India. A cutting from that tree was brought to Sri Lanka and is still alive today. (This website has some pictures of the tree as it looks now and some thoughts about it.) A cutting from the tree in Sri Lanka was brought back to India and planted on the site of the original tree in Bodh Gaya. (Follow this link for a picture of this younger version of the Bodhi tree.)

Next is the Major Oak in the Sherwood Forest of England. It's trunk is large enough to hold 18 people and it may have even provided shelter once upon a time to Robin Hood and his merry men! But today, due to soil compaction and weakening limbs, it is off-limits. (Check out a picture of it here as it is now, with many poles supporting it.)


The Chapel Oak is the most curious of the celebritrees, having been turned into a chapel.


It is approximately 1,000 years old. In the 1600s, it was struck by lightning, which hollowed out the trunk. (Preus tells us "Never stand under an oak tree during a lightning storm. The oak is struck by lightning more than any other kind of tree.") It became a shrine and then a chapel. (Pictures of the Chapel Oak and some of its history can be found here.)

Preus details several other oak trees with fascinating histories as well as the Boab Prison tree of Australia. But the final trees in the book are out of this world!


The so-called "moon trees" were grown from hundreds of seeds from five different types of trees that were brought by astronaut Stuart Roosa on a trip to the moon in 1971. (Here's a little bit of info from NASA about the moon trees.) They have been planted all over America, including at NASA and the White House, and seem to grow like any other earthly trees. There's even one in Massachusetts!

More photos of many of these trees and others mentioned in the book can be found on this web page: 10 Most Extraordinary Trees in the World.


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This week, instead of Saturday story time, we have Sunday game day! We're playing Max, a cute little co-operative game for kids 4 and up.


My daughter got this game for her 4th birthday and the whole party ran off to play the game as soon as she'd unwrapped it.


Max is a cat, sleeping on his mat on the porch. At the tree stump a few steps away, three little critters -- a chipmunk, a mouse and birdie -- have just noticed Max. And Max has just noticed them. The goal of the game is for the kids to get all three critters to the safety of the big tree before Max gets them!


On your turn, you roll two dice. Each green dot lets you move one of the critters one space toward the tree and each black dot lets Max move one space closer to the critters. You can see the problem here: three critters to move, but just one Max. He sneaks up on them very quickly. 


When things get dicey for one of the critters, the kids can decide to put a yummy treat out on the porch for Max, which lures him back home so he has to start from the beginning again. But there are only four treats available to tempt Max back to the start. Once they're gone, there's no stopping Max.

The game is full of simple logical decisions for kids to make: which critter would be best to move now? how close can Max get before we have to send him back? Sometimes a critter has to be sacrificed to save the others, but more often than not, the kids get the satisfaction of seeing all the cute critters arrive safely in the tree. And there is much rejoicing.


Hooray for the tree!

a seed is sleepy

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Saturday story time once again. This week, we're reading a beautiful book all about seeds. A Seed Is Sleepy by Dianna Hutts Aston and beautifully illustrated by Sylvia Long is a loving and lyrical look at the mysterious little things that grow up to be flowers, fruits and trees. You'll never look at seeds the same way again!


The book begins with an enormous sunflower full of sleepy sunflower seeds.


Sleepy seeds, the author tells us, may wait years, even decades, before revealing their secrets.


Some seeds are naked. "Yes, naked!" (No wonder they're secretive.) In seed terms, this means they aren't encased in a fruit. Naked seeds, like those of the great redwoods, hide in cones.


Inside they contain everything that is needed to make a bean plant, a flower, a fruit or a tree. So much in such a little package.


Seeds have adventurous beginnings, often traveling far from their original plant before finding a place to settle down and grow.


And they're very clever about how they get there.


The book shows us that seeds can also be thirsty and hungry and big and little, but always, they are magical, awakening when they are ready, unfurling their leaves and pushing shoots up into the sunlight.

More stunning illustrations appear on the inside cover, framing these thoughts. The opening pages show dozens of seeds, so colorful they look like candy.


And the end pages reveal the plants they will become.


For more stylish and sublime science, check out the authors' previous book, An Egg Is Quiet, and their forthcoming A Butterfly Is Patient.

the tree book

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This Saturday's story time book is The Tree Book for Kids and Their Grown Ups written and illustrated by Gina Ingoglia.


The Tree Book is a great introduction to trees and tree identification for kids. The information, very much like the illustrations, is clear and detailed without being overwhelmingly exact or technical. The book is as pretty as it is scientific and I like that about it.

The book begins with an invitation to get to know trees a little better. (Click for a larger version.)


Ingoglia tells kids (and their grownups) that it's good to know about trees. She tells us she'll help us discover some of their names, why some have flat leaves and others needles, and how tall they grow. She puts any science-y words in bold and includes them in a glossary in the back of the book so you can look them up if you need to. And she includes pictures of people enjoying trees and nature. You can tell that we're not going to be looking at tree parts in microscopes here; we're going to be looking at them the way that any child could look at and experience them. 

The first 20 pages answer a few questions about trees, such as how they eat and drink, what kind of leaves they have and why they change color.


She talks about flowers, fruit, and cones and suggests we go bark scouting to examine this often overlooked, but very interesting part of a tree. And she includes some tips for identifying trees in winter (something I could have used back in Februrary!).


The rest of the book describes 32 common trees in North America. Each species gets a lovely two-page spread, including drawings of the tree, its leaves, buds, flowers and fruit. These tree id books often go through tree types alphabetically, which means that my ash tree is usually first.


I'm not convinced I have a white ash (there are also green ones), but I'm thinking my tiny blooming purple flowers could totally end up looking like those in the drawing. I'll share more thoughts on this another time. Let's move on to some more trees!

Next up, the elm, like the Olmstead Elm and the Madison Square Park elm I've written about on this blog.


And the honey locust, which I now know is the tree that makes the crazy long seedpods we always see on our walk to school!


There's the magnolia, whose amazing flowers we saw just this week.


And the gorgeous sugar maple - a very common tree around here.


Well, I'm sure you can tell that I could look at these pictures all day. Every one of these pages seems to convey something special or welcoming about the tree. I want to study them all and then search for them outside! 

I've stumbled across a couple more kid-friendly tree id books. First, My Favorite Tree: Terrific Trees of North America, which also details many varieties of trees found in North America and shows kids outside playing and relaxing under trees. Here's my ash tree right up front again.


Another good book to check out is Tell Me, Tree: All About Trees for Kids, which is directed at even younger children. It describes how trees grow and shows some of their flowers and leaves and even includes some tree watching activities that kids could do at home or in a classroom.


Okay, no more reading now. Time to get on out there and look at some trees! Or, just take another look out your window. Now tell me, what kind of tree is that?

tomorrow's alphabet

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It's Saturday story time! This week's story is for the little ones out there. It's called Tomorrow's Alphabet and was written by George Shannon and illustrated by Donald Crews (author of classics like Freight Train and Ten Black Dots).


This is an amazingly simple yet deep and thought-provoking alphabet book. It uses the classic "A is for..." format, but the objects chosen to represent the letters do not actually begin with that letter. They are things that will change into or be made into something that starts with that letter. They are tomorrow's alphabet.

And it all begins with a seed.


I love the book's focus on small beginnings that will develop into wonderful things. Just like the kids reading it.


Plants provide a natural and familiar image for this theme of growth and development.


When we read "K is for tomato, tomorrow's ketchup," my daughter asked, Why is tomato ketchup? And, a few pages earlier, Why is milk tomorrow's cheese? These are challenging and enlightening ideas for a four year-old.

Trees also serve as a very effective metaphor for tomorrow. We look forward their blooming in the spring and the change of their leaves in the fall.


Every year, tiny buds become lush green leaves...


... broken twigs are made into homes for the birds...


... and the littlest acorn progresses on its journey to becoming a giant oak.

My own little acorn, who was helpful enough to hold the pages down for me (and how cute are her hands next to the grown ones in the illustrations?), wanted to show her favorite letter.


Recycled paper, of course. Thanks again, trees.

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