Tag Archive | trees

Giving Thanks, by Jonathan London

Giving Thanks, by Jonathan London

“Of course my young friends call me a tree hugger,” says author Jonathan London. “But they’re right. I am.” And he celebrates nature in his 2003 book, Giving Thanks. London teamed up with Gregory Manchess, a self-taught illustrator who also lives on the west coast, who calls their book “a timeless expression of love for nature and of understanding our place in the realm of life.” And according to the book’s jacket, author London admits that just like the characters in his story, “I give thanks to the things of nature every day.”

In the story, the father says a thank-you for the day every day, to Mother Earth and to Father Sky. “Like his Indian friends – singers and storytellers – Dad believes that the things of nature a gift,” London writes. While he explains his philosophy, they stroll through some amazing scenery. A raccoon scurries as they walk under purple clouds. And as the sky turns blue, a tiny frog hides in the tall grass.

It’s the illustrations that really give the story its visual impact. (On the book’s jacket Manchess is identified as a “self-taught illustrator,” and I found myself wondering if that gave his pictures an extra wildness.) Gregory Manchess is like an impressionist Edward Hopper, capturing the light and shadows on the house and the trees around it, while using soft edges to suggest the shapes. He contributes a gorgeous watercolor for the title page – with swatches of yellow-white representing the clouds at sunset, covering a purple sky. The color scheme continues on the next page, where those colors are now covered by the dark-green silhouettes of a pine tree’s leaf, and the amber horizon of a hill is visible in the background, and at its base is a row of distant trees.

The father says a thank you to “the wild mushrooms that smell like pumpkins.” He thanks the trees, with their spectacular red and yellow autumn foliage. There’s an exciting drawing of a fox leaping off over a yellow field. There’s tracks of a deer, and a flock of scattering quails – and the father thanks them all.

Though it’s a simple story, it keeps getting more and more interesting, thanks to Machess’s imaginative illustrations. When London mentions a hawk, “high in the sky,” Manchess switches to a panoramic aerial view, with the hawk’s wings in the foreground and a yellow forest beneath. In the next illustration, it’s just the yellow of the sunset, and the hawk is disappearing among the last clouds. But then there’s a spectacular moonrise over an ancient and twisted tree.

And then the father gives thanks to the moon.

A Tree is Nice by Janice May Udry

A Tree is Nice, by Janice May Udry

It won the Caldecott Medal in 1956 – but the pictures are timeless. Marc Simont illustrated two of James Thurber’s books, according to the book’s jacket, and had also written and illustrated several books of his own. For A Tree is Nice, he teamed up with Janice May Udry, who grew up in “a city famous for its elm trees.” After leaving Jacksonville, Illinois, she’d moved to the south, where she searched for a beautiful tree that could grow quickly – and for Simont’s next project, she wrote about trees.

“Trees are very nice,” the book begins. “They fill up the sky.” But it’s not a story as much as an open-ended meditation. Simont draws a boy fishing in a stream, as Udry writes that trees are found by rivers, and also on hills. “Trees make the woods,” she writes simply, and feels compelled add a personal response. “They make everything beautiful.”

There’s a sketch of a child in the crook of a tree’s branch, and a title page illustration that looks like a cartoon. Throughout the book, Simont switches between color and black-and-white white illustrations, which makes each drawing a little more surprising. There’s a horse in the shadow of a tree, with the white page representing a bright field. And the next page shows brilliant autumn colors, with reds and yellows in the leaves of the trees.

Udry lists out the things you can do with a tree. You can play in a pile of leaves, or rake them into a bonfire. You can climb it, or pretend it’s a ship, and if it’s an apple tree, pick it’s fruit! “Cats get away from dogs by going up the tree,” Udry adds “Birds build nests in trees and live there.” They’re all facts that we’ve heard before, but it’s strangely ompelling to see them collected together.

“Sticks come off the trees too. We draw in the sand with the sticks.” The book has a simplicity that’s almost zen-like, as Udry simply continues listing out the uses for a tree. “A tree is nice to hang a swing in… It is a good place to lean your hoe while you rest.” It’s a fond book, and enthusiastic – and Udry resists the pressure to dream up a story. It takes a certain amount of integrity to simply share all the details, and let the trees speak for themselves.

There’s three pages about shade – with trees sheltering cows, houses, and even people on a picnic. “The tree holds of the wind and keeps the wind from blowing the roof off the house…” But the secret agenda of the book lies in its final pages, saying that a tree is nice…to plant.

Udry ultimately says that planting a tree makes other people want to plant one themselves.