How much green cover would we need to combat global air pollution? If your mind boggles at the calculation, let environmentalists mull over the answer and help build a future generation of green citizens instead. Here’s how:
Cherry Tree by Ruskin Bond
Appropriate for: 7+
In his hilly hometown of Mussoorie, Rakesh plants a cherry seedling and nurtures it through the seasons, anxiously watching over it through monsoon showers, the onslaughts of a hungry goat and a grasscutter without foresight. At last, on his ninth birthday, Rakesh is greeted by the sight of pink blossoms on his beloved cherry tree. Ruskin Bond’s simple story is a window into a world that is no longer available to city-bred children — watching nature work its magic through the symbiotic relationship it shares with all life forms around it. A timeless story, it also speaks of the regenerative nature of life, and and why it would benefit us immensely to always keep the environment in our consideration.
Little Tree by Katsumi Komagata
Appropriate for: 5+
In a bookstore in a Tokyo suburb, I came across Little Tree by Japanese graphic designer and book artist Katsumi Komagata and I have been searching for it online ever since, with no success. If you get your hands on it, don’t think twice: this one is a keeper. Known for his spartan style and sensitivity, having created picture books suitable for differently-abled children, Komagata, author of the 10-volume Little Eye series, talks about the ephemeral nature of life in this evocative pop-up book. Each page of this trilingual book (in Japanese, French and English) traces the journey of a tiny seedling half-hidden in snow to its awakening into joyous life in spring, its evolution through the autumns, winters and springs of its life, till it reaches its full potential. It’s only when it is gone that one notices its absence, but somewhere else, says Komagata, another little seedling begins its journey on earth. Komagata’s art is spectacular. Each page of the pop-up throws into light life from the tree’s perspective and the fact that after the end is the beginning.
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
Appropriate for: 5+
Shel Silverstein’s best known picture book had difficulty in finding a publisher because of the supposed ambivalence of its theme. A limited edition was finally published by Harper and Row in 1964. The book tells the story of yet another relationship between a boy and an apple tree and how it evolves over the course of their lives. As a child, the boy revels in the company of the tree, climbing its branches and playing under it. It’s a relationship they both cherish, but, as they grow older, it undergoes a transformation. Every time he wants material comfort — money, a home or a boat, he turns to the tree, who never fails to oblige. In the end, when all that is left of the tree is a sorry stump and the boy, now an old man, comes looking for shade, they reflect on the transactional demands that had reduced their relationship. The bestseller has been variously interpreted — as an example of what man’s exploitative demands is doing to nature, as a metaphor for a parent-child relationship and as an instance of the virtue of giving — and criticised or praised accordingly. Either way, it’s a good book to pick up and draw your own conclusions.
Strange Trees: And the Stories Behind Them by Bernadette Pourquié, Cécile Gambini, Yolanda Stern Broad (translator)
Princeton Architectural Press
Appropriate for: 6+
The chocolate tree is, of course, the cocoa tree, but ever heard of an upside-down tree? Or, one that sports a rainbow? What about a tree that can walk? Strange Trees introduces children to 16 of the greatest arboreal wonders of the world. A mix of botany and cultural exploration, each species is given a narrative voice — it takes readers through its evolutionary story, habitat, characteristics and social context. The water-colour-like illustrations are vivid enough to hold children’s attention on their own, if a little stereotypical sometimes. A good introduction to botany, even if the book does not feature any native varieties.
The Great Paper Caper by Oliver Jeffers
Appropriate for: 5+
A bear is struggling to live up to his family’s legacy of being paper-plane champions, but not for want of practice. He has been chopping branches off trees in the forest, even if the results are not particularly encouraging. The denizens of the forest are, however, puzzled at the steady depletion of resources in their neck of the woods and launches an investigation. Will they find bear out and can they restore what has been lost? Long before Oliver Jeffers wrote Here We Are, he spoke to readers about the necessity of taking care of our environment through responsible use and adequate restoration. A laugh-riot, The Great Paper Caper is another vintage Jeffers with lessons in responsible citizenship.