Getting Arboreal Before Breakfast

h1 April 13th, 2021 by jules

“Let your roots curl,
coil in the soil to ground you.”

(Click spread to enlarge)


Author Maria Gianferrari and illustrator Felicita Sala would have you be a tree — and have some compelling reasons for you doing so. Be a Tree! (Abrams) is on shelves now.

“Be a tree!” the book opens. “Stand tall. Stretch your branches to the sun.” (You can see this spread below.) On nearly every one of these full-bleed spreads, bursting forth with life, we see a different tree — and children near it. Gianferrari suggests — enthusiastically and in a direct second-person voice — that we humans are much like trees. Our skin is bark, and beneath that are “layers, such as sapwood, carrying nutrients ….” (Here, we see a felled tree on its side and its many rings.) The language is lyrical and flows like poetry: “High above, your crown may be round, weeping pyramidal broad.” Seamlessly, Gianferrari presents a series of metaphors, connecting trees and humans.

About midway through, the book suggests we look around, reminding us we are “one of many trees.” Like trees, we share resources and need to work together. A dramatic double gatefold even reminds us that “immigrant trees, away from their native habitat, are vulnerable.” Before we open the gatefold, we see a man, head down and a sack by his side, sitting alone on a park bench. We open it to read that “together, a forest of trees is strong.” And we see a sprawling park scene where a truly inclusive group of families play and picnic — and the man has been joined by his family.

Sala plays effectively with perspective in many spreads: In one, we look up from the ground at a circle of trees, sunlight streaming through the leaves. In another (pictured above), we see underneath where a tree’s trunk meets the ground, taking in a network of roots. These expansive, beautifully wielded illustrations feature sure, graceful lines and a palette rich with appealing shades of green, deep brown earth tones, and warm blues for sky and water.

The book’s backmatter is impressive. It all closes with an author’s note, in which Gianferrari pays tribute to Peter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees; lists for how to help save trees and how to “help in your community”; a spread showing the anatomy of a tree; a list for further reading and viewing; and a list of websites for children about trees and forests. Oh! And the endpapers? Worth the price of admission alone.

Here are some spreads …


“Be a tree! Stand tall. Stretch your branches to the sun.”
(Click spread to enlarge)


“Your spine is a trunk, giving you shape,
holding your crown, channeling your food.”

(Click spread to enlarge)


“A family, a community, a country, a cosmos.
There is enough for all.”

(Click spread to enlarge)


“So, be a tree. For together,
we are a forest.”

(Click spread to enlarge)


(Click cover to enlarge)


* * * * * * *

BE A TREE! Copyright © 2021 Maria Gianferrari. Illustrations © 2021 by Felicita Sala and reproduced by permission of the publisher, Abrams Books for Young Readers, New York.

2 comments to “Getting Arboreal Before Breakfast”

  1. Julie,

    Thank you for the shout out and your lovely write-up for our book! Felicita’s art is so very beautiful, and I am grateful that we were able to collaborate on a book together! I love the endpapers too–and every single spread in the book sings thanks to her art!

    I hope you can enjoy some tree-time today!


  2. Jules! Now i’m dying to see the endpapers!

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