This is a beautiful, large-format hardcover children’s book that is filled on every page with the author’s gentle, naturalistic illustrations. How the Trees Got Their Voices uses the trees as the focal point for a story that shows the interconnectedness of all things, from the tiniest insect to the largest galaxy. The whimsical, friendly illustrations are done in pen-and-ink and colored pencil, offering an animistic view of the world, with faces on trees and Mother Earth herself peeking out from the ocean.

The story is told in the first person as the author goes on a camping trip with friends and hears Mother Earth speaking to her. The tone is simple and straightforward but not at all condescending. The author respects her audience, no matter how young they may be, and encourages them to listen to nature, to pay attention to those quiet voices that aren’t so easy to hear.

In the story, the trees heard the other creatures talking and decided they wanted voices of their own. Of course, the trees’ voices are subtle, so we must learn to listen to them. Once we can hear those voices, the trees share their gifts with the reader: the connection of all things, from insects, plants, birds, and other animals to the Earth itself, the solar system, and ultimately the whole cosmos.

The tale itself is simple but the illustrations, while friendly and entertaining, are quite complex. The illustrations each span two pages, so when you read this book (which is already quite large) you get a double-wide picture for each section of the story. The center of each illustration depicts the scenery from the story itself, whether that’s a woodland setting, a farm, or planet Earth. But tucked around the edges of each picture are little boxes full of fun facts. These include information about North American woodland animals, plants, and habitat as well as helpful guidance for respecting nature, such as the admonition to build fires only in allowed places and to tend them at all times.

Can you tell I’m entranced by this book? Still, I have a couple of quibbles with it, regarding the information presented in some of the little boxes around the edges of the pages. There are a few places where the information is either confusing or downright incorrect, and I would hate to see children getting these basic facts wrong from the start. For instance, one of the little boxes says, “Mother Earth takes 24 hours to travel around the star we call the Sun.” No, it takes 24 hours to turn once on its axis. It takes a year to go around the Sun. Another says, “Our planet, Earth, lives in the Milky Way solar system, with the sun as its center. There are other planets, too, and stars, comets, moons…and magical star dust.” I’m all for magical star dust, but the solar system is the solar system and the Milky Way is the huge galaxy that the solar system is located in. The Sun is the center of the solar system, not the galaxy.

With those caveats (which a savvy adult could correct while reading the book to a child), I do recommend the book. The story is simple and understandable for toddlers who are just beginning to learn about nature, but the extra layer of information makes the book interesting for older kids as well. And the beautiful illustrations, along with the underlying sentiment of connectedness, makes it a pleasure to page through even for this adult reviewer.

~review by Laura Perry
Author: Susan Andra Lion
Satiama LLC, 2014 (www.satiama.com)
pp. 30, $16.95

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