Monday, June 8, 2015

Nonfiction Monday: As an oak tree grows by G. Brian Karas

I've never been a really big fan of Karas' art (I know, I know, everybody else loves it) but this is one book I can really get behind.

The story begins long, long ago with a little Native American boy dropping an acorn into a whole. In 1775 (the date is neatly blocked out at the bottom left corner) the tree sprouts. The tree grows throughout history as farmers take over the land, through heavy winters and hot summers, the coming of the railway and electric light. Cars appear on the roads, and a treehouse is built in the tree. Finally, when the tree is 225 years old, a final great storm splits the tree in two and its life is over. The last spread shows a large stump against a bold green background and, next to the stump, a little sprout as the cycle begins again.

A final page includes some simple facts about the life cycle of an oak tree. A poster is included in the book as well. One side shows how different historical events correlate to the rings in the oak tree, the other side has various activities.

Karas' smudgy, detailed art has a wealth of diverse people featured throughout the story, from the original boy who planted the tree to the families living and working around the tree in the ensuing spreads. Having recently been reading several nonfiction books, specifically picture book biographies, that were not at all suited to their audience, it was like standing under a refreshing waterfall to see this book. On the face of it, it's a very simplistic approach to history through the growth and changes in a tree, perfectly suited to a very young audience. However, the genius of this lies in the detailed art that allows parents and teachers to initiate discussions on the historical events as they are occurring; why did the Native American boy leave? How is the land changed with the advent of various technologies? What different people do you see? How are they the same? How are they different?

Verdict: This is a great book, not just in literary and artistic quality, but in the connections it opens up for further discussion and research. This will be accessible for a wide variety of ages and interests. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9780399252334; Published 2014 by Nancy Paulsen/Penguin; Borrowed from another library in my consortium; Purchased for the library

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