Just as a family plants a tree in the backyard of their Brooklyn neighborhood, another family in Kenya plants a tree, a reflection of the country’s Green Belt Movement, created by environmentalist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai.

In simple yet poetic and inspirational text, Diane Muldrow shares stories describing how trees, whether in Central Park or Paris, New England or Africa, on a Midwest farm or along the Mediterranean coast, provide a multitude of benefits for the earth. After buds burst open and leaves appear, these leaves and the sun combine to give trees their food. In turn, trees provide shade, clean air, fruit, sap for syrup and food for animals. They prevent erosion, which makes the soil healthier and allows people to grow and eat their own nutritious vegetables.

Bob Staake’s computer generated, cartoon-like characters evoke nothing but joy as they interact with the trees and their offerings. Some trees, like the one that holds up a girl’s swing set and spans two pages, become the focus of the illustrations, while other trees, such as the ones that form the perimeter of a baseball field, blend into the background of a playful afternoon. In one scene, in which birthday preparations are underway at a seaside home, the illustrator gives a nod to two of his previous books. He incorporates lemon trees, evoking The Red Lemon, and the delivery of a cake by a rotund baker, like the character in The Donut Chef.

Staake depicts the refrain “We planted a tree and it grew up” by showing both trees and children growing up together until a second generation takes pleasure in a picnic beneath a lush tree that now blocks the view of the Brooklyn Bridge, and around a shady tree amidst a plentiful Kenyan garden.

In We Planted a Tree, Muldrow emphasizes that only one tree is needed to reap rewards. For motivation to plant that first tree, this is the one book families will need.

Angela Leeper always enjoys a shady afternoon at her home in Richmond, Virginia.

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