The Life of Trees and the Tree of Life: An Annotated List of Multicultural Non-Fiction Picture Books About Trees

The Life of Trees and the Tree of Life: An MWD Annotated List of Multicultural Non-Fiction Picture Books About Trees

Tree of Life: The Incredible Biodiversity of Life on Earth, written by Rochelle Strauss, illustrated by Margot Thompson(Kids Can Press, 2004 / paperback 2013)Tree of Life: The Incredible Biodiversity of Life on Earth
written by Rochelle Strauss, illustrated by Margot Thompson
(Kids Can Press, 2004/paperback 2013)

Human beings are just one leaf of the appoximately 1,750,000 on the Tree of Life that represents all the species that make up Life on Earth. Taking the model of the tree, this great book introduces children to biodiversity and the impact that even tiny changes within one species can have on ther leaves, twigs amd/or branches. it’s packed with bites of information, numbers and ideas about ‘Becoming Guardians of the Tree of Llfe. Labelled close-ups of species emerge from the tree, each drawn on their own leaf – and the diagram of the tree showing how much is taken up by each category of species is particularly effective. It is the perfect companion to other books in Kids Can Press’s CitizenKid series.

Naomi's Tree, written by Joy Kogawa, illustrated by Naomi Ohi (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2008/paperback 2011)  Naomi’s Tree
written by Joy Kogawa, illustrated by Ruth Ohi
(Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2008/paperback 2011)

A beloved cherry tree sown from a seed brought to Vancouver from Japan by Naomi’s grandparents becomes a symbol of home when Naomi and her family are interned as enemy aliens during the Second World War. Only many years later are Naomi and her borther Stephen able to return and see their old home again – and the cherry tree, old like them, calls to Naomi offering comfort, love and healing.

Based on author Joy Kogawa’s own experiences, this is a deeply moving story enhanced by the sensitive, gentle illustrations (even if the original tree did have white blossom!). A picture book companion to chapter book Naomi’s Road, together these books evoke empathy and provide an intergenerational connection, as well as a springboard to discussion about internment.

The Great Kapok Tree: A Tale of the Amazon Rainforest, by Lynne Cherry (Harcourt Brace, 1990)The Great Kapok Tree: A Tale of the Amazon Rainforest
by Lynne Cherry
(Harcourt Brace, 1990)

The Great Kapok Tree is a fable for our times, and a modern classic that has been translated into many languages. As a man takes a rest from chopping down a tree in the Amazonian rainforest, all the animals whose habitat depends on the tree come and speak to him in his dreams, offering a myriad of reasons why he should reconsider his actions… Although the story is a legend, so it is perhaps a bit of a stretch including the book here, the message is pertinent, and Lynne Cherry offers an accurate depiction of the flora and fauna of the rainforest.

The Bee Tree,  written by Stephen Buchmann and Diana Dohn, illustrated and photographed by Paul Mirocha (Cinco Puntos Press, 2007)The Bee Tree
written by Stephen Buchmann and Diana Cohn, illustrated and photographed by Paul Mirocha
(Cinco Puntos Press, 2007)

A coming-of-age story, as Nizam progresses from equipment carrier to honey harvester at his grandfather Pak Teh’s side 100 feet up in the tall tualang trees of the Malaysian rainforest. A magical, awe-inspring story that happens to be true (and I love that moment of realisation when reading the excellent back-matter that the close-up illustration of Pak Teh’s kind, wise old face in the story was a portrait). A superb book that takes readers deep into a special area of Malaysian culture and reminds us all of the importance of bees…

A short introduction and afterword both contextualise Wangari’s life regarding the relevance today of what she achieved, in the past tense – and then the main narrative is delivered in the present tense, really getting across the urgency of her quest to plant trees and the personal suffering behind her determination not to back down. The extensive back matter is powerful and includes emotive quotations from Unbowed. And every spread is a colourful feast for the eyes, a complex blend of simplicity and symbolism.

Aani and the Tree Huggers, written by Jeannine Atkins, illustrated by Venantius J. Pinto (Lee & Low Books, 1995/2013)Aani and the Tree Huggers
written by Jeannine Atkins, illustrated by Venantius J. Pinto
(Lee & Low Books, 1995/2013)

When ‘men from the city’ arrive to chop down the carefully nurtured trees all around Aani’s rural northern Indian village, she leaps spontaneously to protect them by putting herself between a tree and the axe threatening it. Only when all becomes quiet does she dare to open her eyes…

Aani and the Tree Huggers, based on the actions of women in the Chipko Andalan or ‘Hug the Tree Movement’ in the 1970s, is a powerful and inspiring story that really gets across Aani’s terror and bravery, as well as a commitment to peaceful protest.The colourful illustrations echo 17th-century Indian miniature painting and the Illustrator’s Note at the end is also very interesting.

Sequoyah: The Cherokee Man Who Gave His People Writing, by James Rumford, translated into Cherokee by Anna Sixkiller Huckaby(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2004)Sequoyah: The Cherokee Man Who Gave His People Writing
by James Rumford, Cherokee translation by Anna Sixkiller Huckaby
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2004)

A family excursion to see the huge sequoias in California leads into the story of the person who probably inspired their name: the Cherokee Indian Sequoyah (1760/65-1843), who invented the writing system for the Cherokee language. Derided at first, Sequoyah persisted, and soon people came to appreciate his achievement. Sequoyah is beautifully presented book and, as one has come to expect of James Rumford, the artwork is carefully constructed to reflect the essence of the story.

by Barbara Bash

The Sierra Club Tree Tales series by Barbara Bash:

Tree of Life: The World of the African Baobab
(Little, Brown/Sierra Club Books, 1980; reprinted Sierra Club Books,2006)

In the Heart of the Village: The World of the Indian Banyan
(Little, Brown/Sierra Club Books1988; reprinted Sierra Club Books, 2006)

Desert Giant: The World of the Saguaro Cactus
(Scholastic, 1989; reprinted Sierra Club Books, 2002)

Ancient Ones: The World of the Old Growth Douglas Fir
(Gibbs M Smith, 1994; reprinted Sierra Club Books, 2002)

The Sierra Club’s Tree Tales series focuses on iconic tree species from around the world, delving into their ecosystems and the birds, insects, reptiles and mammals that depend on them, as well as their many uses to local people. Barbara Bash is renowned for her children’s books about the natural world and her writing is an appealing blend of descriptive narrative and scientific explanation accompanied by cross-section illustrations of flowers or birds’ nests, for example. As well as being beautifully illustrated, the books’ presentation is further enhanced by the calligraphic script.

The Spirit of the Baobab Tree, written by Dionne Champion and Sherice Grant, illustrated by Daryl Champion (Xlibris Corp., 2008)The Spirit of the Baobab Tree
written by Dionne Champion and Sherice Grant, illustrated by Daryl Champion
(Xlibris Corp., 2008)

A story-teller takes a boy Jelani on a journey through the history of his American and African ancestors and their struggles for freedom. The mighty baobab tree provides the thread of continuity throughout the story, which started life as a stage performance that has been performed by hundreds of children. The Spirit of the Baobab Tree is a powerful story that uses fictional narrative to relate real history so that readers who share Jelani’s African American heritage feel empowered to make positive choices for their own futures.

Amoako and the Forest,written by Deborah Cowley, photographs by Kathy Knowles (OSU Children's Library Fund, 2008)Amoako and the Forest
written by Deborah Cowley, photographs by Kathy Knowles
(OSU Children’s Library Fund, 2008)

Amoako is a forester in Ghana and the text is narrated in his voice as he describes his work with a legal logging company – when and how trees are felled; the dangers and challenges; the ways trees are idenified and identifiable at all times; the process to beautifully crafted furniture via the timber yard; what happens with leftover wood so that nothing is wasted; and the forest regeneration programme running alongside the felling. Stunning photographs offer a blend of Amoako’s personal story and informative, jaw-dropping images of trees throughout the logging process.

Let's Plant Trees, by Vinod Lal Heera Eshwer ( (Tulika, 2011)Let’s Plant Trees
by Vinod Lal Heera Eshwer
(Tulika (India), 2011)

This attractive book offers plenty of reasons why we should plant trees. Its very simple text and cartoon drawings on a pale blue background pack a punch and make the book itself worth getting hold of to share with young children – but this is a book that not only urges action but makes action possible, by providing four large seeds of the pongamia tree, a native of tropical and temperate Asia.

Inside cover of Let's Plant Trees, by Vinod Lal Heera Eshwer ( (Tulika, 2011), showing pongamia seeds to plant

A Tree in My Village, by Paritosh Sen (Tulika (India), 1998) A Tree in My Village
by Paritosh Sen
(Tulika (India), 1998)

A deeply satisfying read for older children through to adults, this is a short memoir based around a ‘giant’Arjuna tree in both words and images from the pen of Paritosh Sen (1918-2008), a pioneer of the Indian Modern Art Movement. The tree obviously figured large in his childhood, growing up in a village in Bangladesh, and the filter of memory adds a layer of poetry to his minutely observed portrayal of the interplay between the tree and its many inhabitants, which in turn sets up a metaphor for a deeper understanding of ‘the human world’. Within the realms of the human interaction with the tree, there is also even a ghost story to add a frisson of the unexplainable. The vibrant pen and watercolour sketches are a joy; the text is rich and poetic. Anyone young or old who loves both words and nature would love this book.

In the Forest, by Anouck Boisrobert and Louis Rigaud, story by Sophie Strady (Tate Publishing, 2011)In the Forest
by Anouck Boisrobert and Louis Rigaud, story by Sophie Strady
(Tate Publishing, 2011)

‘In the forest, everything is green, everything is full of life’ – until the machines move in. A simple but very effective pop-up book that conveys its message of the dire results of the wanton deforestation of the Amazonian rainforest through the simple mechanism of asking young readers to find the sloth on each page, as every other living creature flees before the ‘metal monsters’. The search gets easier as the trees disappear, and eventually, of course, there is no sloth to be found because there are no more trees. But the book ends with a message of hope: a man comes and works hard to plant new trees, and soon the sloth and then the other forest creatures come back…

The Sea, the Storm, and the Mangrove Tangle, by Lynne Cherry (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2004)The Sea, the Storm, and the Mangrove Tangle
by Lynne Cherry
(Farrar Straus Giroux, 2004)

By focusing on the growth from seed (‘propagule’) to tangled island of a single mangrove plant, Lynne Cherry describes the ecosystem of plants, fishes, birds and animas – and indeed defense from coaastal erosian – that depend on the mangrove for their survival. When it reaches 100 years old, there’s a heart-stopping moment when two fishermen arrive. One proposes they chop down the mangrove to make way for a shrimp farm; the other, more enlightened, knows that the mangrove is in fact necessary to the survival of many of the young of the fish they catch to eat – and so they move on. In her Afterword, Lynne Cherrymakes it clear that most mangroves have not been so fortunate and need our protection.

While the focus here is on the mangroves in the Caribbean Sea, a map inside the front cover outlines mangroves around the world, and certainly the book’s message is universal: how long it takes for and ecosystem to grow, and how quickly and irrevocably it can be destroyed.

Then there are the picture-book biographies of the inspirational Wangari Maathai, which each emphasise slightly different aspects of her story and, with the contrasting styles of their illustrators, offer a rich reading experience when combined, as well as individually. These books are all discussed in more detail, along with other books that link to her, in ‘Seeds of Inspiration: Books for Children and Young Adults about Wangari Maathai‘…

Picture Books about Wangari Maathai

Wangari Maathai: The Woman who Planted Millions of Trees
written by Franck Prévot, illustrated by Aurélia Fronty, translated by Dominique Clément
(Charlesbridge, 2015 (first published in French by Éditions Rue du monde, 2012))

Mama Miti: Wangari Maathai and the Trees of Kenya
written by Donna Jo Napoli, illustrated by Kadir Nelson
(Simon & Schuster, 2010)

Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Maathai
by Claire A. Nivola
(Frances Foster Books; Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008)

Wangari’s Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa
by Jeanette Winter
(Harcourt Children’s Books, 2008)

Seeds of Change: Wangari’s Gift to the World
written by Jen Cullerton Johnson, illustrated by Sonia Lynn Sadler
(Lee & Low Books, 2010)



  1. What a great list. I love the look of ‘In the Forest’ and ‘Let’s Plant Trees’ 🙂

    Hopping over from the kid lit blog hop

    • They are both lovely, Catherine – and I’m just putting together an interview with Vinod Lal Heera Eshwer, so I’m looking forward to hearing more about Let’s Plant Trees, as I was captivated by it when I first saw it.

  2. Wow, that is a lot of books about trees and they all look interesting! Thanks for sharing and happy hopping :0)

  3. I’m thrilled to have found your site through the Kid Lit Blog Hop! Hope you will considering joining us at! We are a very active group and would love to have your input! We’re on FB at Wonderful post!

  4. Thank you, Rebecca – I’d love to – I have been following you on Facebook and you have an amazing outreach of resources and activities.

  5. Just fabulous, thanks so much for joining us on the Kid Lit Blog hop, we are so delighted you found us.

  6. Super collection of books! I have a similar post up on books about the power of trees and people that contains many of these great favorites. Thanks for sharing with Kid Lit Blog Hop!

  7. They are wonderful books, aren’t they – I’m heading over to take a look at your list now!

  8. Love all the multi-cultural books bloggers have been sharing. The cover for Naomi’s Tree is beautiful. Looking forward to sharing some of these stories with my grandsons.

  9. Pingback:Seeing the Woods and the Trees in 42 Picture Book Stories from Around the World |

  10. This is such a great resource! Thanks so much for posting it. It would be cool if we could get some young people do brainstorm tree-saving projects.

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