I've written over 50 articles about children's literature for library, preschool or home settings. I have a BA in English Lit from BYU.
Celebrating Arbor Day and Earth Day
April is a green month in several ways: both Arbor Day and Earth Day fall in this month where we celebrate the beauty of some of Mother Nature's grandest creations, trees. But being green also means promoting the preservation of our Earth's resources, including water, clean air, and energy. Being green and promoting responsible green habits can be the focus of family readings or library storytime programs.
National Arbor Day, celebrated on the first Friday in April in the United States, makes an exploration of tree-themed books and the habitats they create for other creatures a must. This holiday promotes planting a tree for shade, beauty, fruit, and wood. Included in my selection are some well-known tree fiction books too. Arbor Day is an excellent day to introduce youngsters to a study of ecology and botany sciences.
A Tree Is Nice
A Tree is Nice by Janice May Udry, and Marc Simont was a Caldecott Honor Book during the 1950s. This book explains uses for a tree that will appeal to very young children. The timeless message of this book mirrors the title and is apropos for Arbor Day.
Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf
Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf by Lois Ehlert depicts the life of a tree that is is planted by a young child. The yellow and red leaves on the cover of this book are indicative of Ehlert's exquisite collage artwork. Critics of the book suggest that this book is a little too focused on the artwork and otherwise not concrete enough for the young reader. Trust me, the artwork alone is enough to recommend this book, but if you are looking for facts about photosynthesis and other botanical science-related topics, just make sure you select other books in my list to read with this one.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
— Joyce Kilmer, Trees, 1913
Don't forget the lovely poem by Joyce Kilmer, which is now over a century old. The poem Trees begins, "I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree." This poem was also made into a song and was published several times during the last century and is now available as a free Amazon Kindle eBook at the time of this writing. While this poem is not a children's book, it is easy to read with powerfully descriptive language. Mr. Kilmer said it best:
Our Tree Named Steve
Our Tree Named Steve by Alan Zweibel and David Catrow is a fictional story about a tree named "Steve" that blows down during a storm. A father and his children remember all of the great things they did with the ginormous tree in their yard. This story has been called "bibliotherapy" and a "book about loss", but is also just a great read with exceptional illustrations.
Where Once There Was a Wood
Where Once There Was a Wood by Denise Fleming tells about all of the animals that lived in a woodland habitat that was cleared to make a housing development. This book is a very simple picture book but carries a powerful message with instructions for ways to welcome animals back into our back yards.
Forests of Cacti
Though technically not trees, the giant saguaro cactus is native to the Sonoran Desert of Arizona where I live and is said to grow in forests. Two exceptional books about these fascinating plants are The Seed and the Giant Saguaro by Jennifer Ward and Cactus Hotel by Brenda Z. Guiberson. I am partial to these beautifully illustrated books that tell the story of the saguaro cactus (pronounced sa-wa-ro) and the creatures that make it their home. The first book is written in an appealing rhyming format, while the second book conveys the inter-relatedness of the desert animals who make this cactus their home.
The Lorax by Dr. Seuss is an ecological morality tale for any age. Published in 1971, the Lorax becomes a speaker for the trees, who are threatened by all of the people making stuff. Though a masterpiece, one of Seuss's best, this story is very long and will probably not be a good read for young preschoolers, merely based on length. I do recommend this for the early elementary grades.
The Great Kapok Tree, a Tale of the Amazon Rain Forest
The Great Kapok Tree, a Tale of the Amazon Rain Forest by Lynne Cherry, carries a similar message to The Lorax. But the appealing illustrations and the rainforest setting of this story, called "breathtaking" by other reviewers, may make this book a little more accessible for kindergarten through second-grade readers.
The Bee Tree
The Bee Tree by Patricia Polacco is the story of a young girl, her grandfather, and their hunt for a beehive filled with honey. The hunt gets the whole community buzzing. This book ends with some homey wisdom from grandpa "Just like we ran after the bees to find their tree, so you must also chase these things adventure, knowledge, and wisdom through the pages of a book!"
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault is one of the most well-known children's books of all time, with alphabet letters that climb up the coconut tree and then fall right back down. Though this book isn't exactly an Arbor Day choice, it is conveniently about letters marching up and down a tree. This book is very appropriate for young preschoolers and is a fun choice to read aloud in a story hour setting.
The Giving Tree
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein is one of my all-time favorite books. This story is a fable about love and sacrifice. A tree gives of itself through every stage of a man's life. You can easily read this story to a group of children at the library, but it can be appreciated by anyone. While the hero of the story is a tree who gives everything it has to its boy, the parable for Arbor Day is chilling.
The Apple Pie Tree
The Apple Pie Tree by Zoe Hall and Shari Halpern is also worth mentioning again here, even though it is also featured in my preschool Apples theme. Two children enjoy the delights of the changing seasons with the familiar apple tree nearby. In the summer, the children run through the sprinkler under the protective branches of the tree, while in the Fall the tree gives delicious apples for making apple pies. Halpern is an expert illustrator who uses a popular collage-style illustration technique to make the tree and the children in this preschool-friendly book to jump off the page.
Arbor Day Nonfiction Books for Kids
- A Tree for All Seasons by Robin Bernard features full-colored photographs, tree facts, and children playing.
- Tell Me, Tree: All About Trees for Kids by Gail Gibbons has a lot to offer curious kids (and their teachers) who want to learn more about the study of trees. This book encourages to explore on their own and create their own tree identification book. I strongly recommend this book as a classroom resource, especially for early elementary ages.
- The Tree Book for Kids and Their Grownups and What Tree Is That published by the Arbor Day Foundation are great resources for a class nature walk or as part of a family library. You will refer to these reference books about trees again and again.
Arbor Day Books
Two books about Arbor Day may help you and your class delve into this holiday and learn more about its origins.
- Arbor Day Square is the story of a treeless town on the prairie and its transformation as the citizens plant trees.
- Arbor Day by Rebecca Rissman suggests ways that young people can celebrate this holiday and save our planet.
A Tip of the Hat
I would just like to take a moment to honor my daughter's former elementary school principal, Mike Anderson, who turned a bare and shadeless playground into a wonderful and relaxing place for children to play at the new location of Hassayampa Elementary school. Every year Mr. Anderson sponsors a coin drive called "Kiss the Pig." Students bring in their spare change and use it to vote for a favorite teacher. The teacher who gets the most coins in their jar gets to kiss a live pig at the end of the fundraiser! Each year this popular fundraiser brings in about twelve hundred dollars, and as a result, the Wickenburg Elementary now has over 20 trees planted on its playground.
We have now moved away from Arizona, but I feel that participating in this fundraiser and beautification project helped my daughter to learn a respect for the earth and gave her a chance to help plant a legacy for untold future elementary students at her school. Arbor day is not just a quaint holiday, it is an important day that reminds us we are caretakers in the garden we call Earth.
© 2011 Carolyn Augustine
Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on October 13, 2011:
Thanks RC, I agree! I appreciate your commenting!
Rose Clearfield from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on October 12, 2011:
The Giving Tree and The Lorax are both great books. Thanks for another helpful list!