It's the right time of year to be thinking about trees. The gigantic willow outside my window is just beginning its annual fireworks show: today it is dripping antique gold stippled faintly with grass green. That's pollen, mostly - just a warning that this review might be a little less coherent than usual. Pollen makes me dippy.
The trees in this book are better-known than my willow. Older, for sure. Larger (the Tule Tree in Mexico measures 177 feet in circumference), taller (a coast redwood named Hyperion is 379 feet tall), more hollow (the Boab Tree, used as a prison in Australia, could fit 10 men inside).
There are trees that are reported to have sheltered Robin Hood, the Queen of Spain, convicts, Republicans, and French Christians. Trees that are revered and central to religious life, like the Bodhi Tree in Sri Lanka. Trees whose location is secret, to protect them from damage - shh! There's a tree in New Orleans that I am pretty sure I have stopped beneath myself, a gigantic oak in City Park that was the traditional place to hold a duel in the nineteenth century.
No duels beneath my willow. Wait, who am I kidding? Little boys are the only people who regularly stage duels these days. I'm sure there have been tons of duels beneath my willow, in part, because once it leafs out, I can't see under there. Sly dogs.
The stories told in this slender middle-grade picture book are fun and interesting, surprising, sometimes sad, often intriguing. The mostly-watercolor full-bleed illustrations have a homey, accessible feel appropriate to the subject matter. The trees are full of critters and the people are smiling and respectful. This is a friendly book.
But given that this book includes so many mind-blowing measurements, I would like to have seen metric equivalents. Also, although the book is structured like a book of stories, a reference map at the front or back would not distract from the narrative. And lastly, I cannot say it enough: photos signal to readers "this is really true." I wish there were a little photo for each tree. Even a photo the size of a postage stamp will reinforce the veracity of the text and prompt readers to find more information for themselves.
A wonderful book that fills a gap I didn't even know I had - just a little shy of perfect.
Nonfiction Monday is hosted today at The Children's War.