Thursday, December 18, 2008

Picture Book Reviews: Winter Trees, Christmas Trees

Written by Carole Gerber
Illustrated by Leslie Evans
Charlesbridge, 2008

This is a treasure of a nonfiction book written in verse. The rhyming text introduces young children to the different shapes of the crowns of deciduous trees once they are bare of leaves—

the egg shape of the maple tree;
the taller oval of the beech…
The V formation of the birch;
the yellow poplar, wide and high;
the spreading structure of the oak,
its branches reaching toward the sky.

Gerber also writes about the bark and buds and other characteristics of different trees: The American beech’s bark is smooth and silver-gray; the yellow poplar’s is furrowed. The sugar maple’s buds are stout and have clawlike tips; the poplar’s reddish twigs hold puffy buds. She writes, too, about evergreens and how they keep their needles throughout the year. The back matter includes three paragraphs with further information about trees and small illustrations of the seven trees written about in the book.

The spare illustrations created from linoleum block print, watercolor, and collage, are a fine complement to the text. The pictures are set mostly against a plain white or pale blue background. Evans focuses the reader’s eye on the shapes of the trees, the leaves, the buds, the bark—whatever is the main point of each page of text. This helps to enhance the information that is conveyed through Gerber’s verse.

Winter Trees would make a great read-aloud for children in Pre-K through the early elementary grades. It’s an excellent book for young naturalists and one that encourages kids to observe nature more closely.

Click here to view illustrations from Winter Trees.

More Blog Reviews of Winter Trees

7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #93: Featuring Leslie Evans (This post includes images of a number of illustrations from the book.)

From Check It Out: Nonfiction Monday: Winter Trees

Written by
Ann Purmell
Illustrated by Jill Weber
Holiday House, 2006

This is a “realistic fiction” picture book that tells all about the planting, pruning, and care of evergreens on a farm where Christmas trees are raised as the cash crop. The story is narrated by a young boy who explains how his Grandpa and the rest of his family go about their work on the farm throughout the year. The boy also informs readers about the measuring and tagging of trees before they are cut down and brought to the Tree Hut to be sold. Christmas Tree Farm is also a book about a family working together. The story closes with a slew of relatives coming to Grandpa’s and Grandma’s house for a tree trimming party. Weber’s gouache and acrylic na├»ve-style illustrations are colorful and an appropriate complement to a story narrated by a young boy.

The back matter of the book includes information under the following headings: Christmas Tree Lore, Christmas Tree Facts, and a Christmas Tree Time Line—as well as a two-page spread with labeled illustrations of different types of evergreen trees: Colorado Blue Spruce, Fraser Fir, Virginia Pine, Scotch Pine, Norway Spruce, White Pine, Balsam Fir, and Douglas Fir.

Click here for the teacher packet for Christmas Tree Farm.

Written & illustrated by David McPhail
Atheneum, 2003

Henry Bear enjoys everything about Christmas: the presents, the jelly cakes Momma Bear always bakes, the warmth and good cheer of the holiday season. But what Henry loves most of all is having a fine, full, beautifully decorated Christmas tree and good friends all around. This story tells about Henry’s search for a Christmas tree. When Henry and his best friend Stanley find the perfect tree at the church, the vicar tells them that it’s not for sale. The tree is going to be raffled off. So what does Henry Bear do? Why, he spends all his Christmas tree money on raffle tickets. He feels certain he’ll win the tree. Unfortunately, on the day of the raffle drawing, Henry Bear isn’t present when his winning number is picked. He’s at the doughnut shop warming himself with a steaming mug of cocoa. Henry ends up having to settle for a brown-needled, scrawny tree that no one wants. After looking over the tree more carefully, Henry observes: “I see that it is not such a bad little tree after all.” Christmas ends up a happy occasion for Henry, Stanley, and Momma Bear. In the book’s final illustration, we see Momma Bear, Stanley, and Henry celebrating the holiday by a glowing fire. This book is another charmer from the talented McPhail.

Written by Eve Bunting
Illustrated by Ted Rand

This is a cozy story about a family (father, mother, son, and daughter) going out on Christmas Eve to decorate a tree in the forest with holiday treats for wild animals: apples and tangerines and balls of sunflower seeds pressed with millet and honey. Beneath the tree the family scatters shelled nuts, breadcrumbs, and pieces of apple for “the little creatures who can’t climb very well.” When the family is finished, they spread out a blanket, open a thermos of hot chocolate, sing songs, and admire their handiwork. This story is told from the perspective of the son who conveys the excitement he feels sharing this annual tradition with his family in the forest and the wonder of this special night as he lies awake in bed. Ted Rand’s realistic watercolor illustrations transport us to a winter forest. The royal blue sky aglow with a full moon adds warmth to the scenery and the changing perspectives help bring the story alive on the pages.

Written & illustrated by
Trinka Hakes Noble

Published nearly a quarter century ago, Apple Tree Christmas is still in print today. It’s a book I used to read aloud to my elementary students every December.

The book is set on a farm in the late 19th century. This is a warm family story about a mother, father, and two young daughters named Katrina and Josie. It’s also about an apple tree overgrown with wild grape vines that stood near their barn. It was a special tree to the girls. Josie loved to sit on the swing her father had fashioned from the tree’s vines—and Katrina, the artist, sat on a limb that made a perfect drawing board. “She called it her studio.”

One night a ferocious blizzard howls through the farm. Katrina and Josie learn to their dismay that their special apple tree has been felled by the storm. In the days before Christmas, Katrina finds it difficult to concentrate on knitting papa’s presents. She’s disturbed by the sound of her father’s sawing and hacking away at her beloved tree. But what Katrina and Josie don’t know is that Papa isn’t just chopping firewood—he’s making presents for his daughters from the vines and limbs of the tree. On Christmas morning, this is what the girls awake to find:

There, hanging from the beam, was Josie’s swing, the very same swing from the apple tree. Sitting on the swing was a little rag doll that mama had made.

Near the swing was a drawing board made from the very same limb that had been Katrina’s studio. On the drawing board were real charcoal paper and three sticks of willow charcoal.

Noble’s homey, period-style art suit this story of country life in bygone times.

Click here to see illustrations from Apple Tree Christmas at Noble’s website.

More Picture Books about Christmas Trees

Click here to read my review of A City Christmas Tree.

Click here to read my reviews of Merry Christmas, Merry Crow and Mr. Willoughby's Christmas Tree at Blue Rose Girls.

Click here to read my review of Wendell and Florence Minor’s Christmas Tree!.


Anonymous said...

Hi Elaine,
Thank you for your kind words about Winter Trees. Hope you don't mind my linking to your blog from my website.

Leslie Evans
Sea Dog Press

Elaine Magliaro said...


Thanks for commenting. I love the book. It came highly recommended to me by a friend--a former children's librarian--who owns a children's book store. I think your illustrations are a wonderful complement to Gerber's text. BTW, I'd say the same thing about the illustrations you created for all of Steven Schnur's Alphabet Acrostic books.

You are most welcome to link to my blog. Happy Holidays!

Anonymous said...

Like pictures from your picture book.... It's just perfect Christmas theme in all of them.

laurasalas said...

I'm in the middle of collecting examples of rhyming nonfiction books for young kids. Thanks for recommending Winter Trees. I just put it on reserve at the library. Can't wait to read it!

Tricia said...

Morning Elaine!
One of my favorites this time of year is A Christmas Tree in the White House. It's loosely based on the true story of Teddy Roosevelt's boys sneaking a live tree into the White House after their father said no to a live tree.

Thanks for the lovely review and list.