Alice B. McGinty | Fresh crop of books put our tall friends in spotlight

Alice B. McGinty | Fresh crop of books put our tall friends in spotlight

Outdoors, things are growing — and wonderful new books are growing, too!

"Stretch to the Sun: From a Tiny Sprout to the Tallest Tree on Earth (2018, Charlesbridge, written by Carrie Pearson, illustrated by Susan Swan, ages 4-9) tells the true story of survival — and more than 1,200 years of growth — of a special tree in California's Redwood National Park.

Beginning with a fierce winter storm, we read "Branches clatter. Twigs break. Limbs careen down, down, down." Bold collage-style illustrations show an owl flying directly toward the reader. A giant tree falls, making the forest floor tremble. Then, quiet ... until springtime comes " and ...POP! A tiny tree, no bigger than a pinky finger, sprouts from the stump of the fallen tree."

"The sprout needs light, so it stretches toward the sun. The sprout needs water, so it reaches out thin roots to pull moisture from the damp duff," we read as we enjoy the colors, texture and details of the illustrations.

We move from autumn dropping leaves that decay, winter rains, springtime bees and summer fog, giving the tree what it needs. "... until 600 years later ..." We turn the page to see the huge tree filling the spread, "... it isn't so little anymore."

After several pages showing the activity that takes place up in the tree's crown, where birds and animals drop seeds, suddenly lightning strikes and fire rages. It destroys many trees, but not this one, which has bark so thick it survives ... and grows taller.

There are more struggles when humans arrive to harvest trees for lumber. However, in Washington D.C., the president signs a law protecting ancient trees, and the sawing stops.

Finally, one day this special tree is discovered at 379.1 feet tall — "The TALLEST OF THE TALL." The last spread folds upward to show the canopy, with this special tree towering above the rest.

Bold illustrations and language bursting with action and sensory detail bring this story to life. An author's note at the end, followed by many pages of back matter, make this a wonderful read.

In our next book, we see a young girl walking outside with her watering can as springtime flowers bloom. So begins "My Heart" (2019, Dial Books for Young Readers, written and illustrated by Corinna Luyken, ages 2-6).

We turn the page to read, "My heart is a window," and are taken in by the chalk drawing, featuring a black page with a big splash of bright yellow light coming through a window, the back of a child looking through it.

A page turn finishes the line with, "my heart is a slide," as several children slide down into a glow of yellow light. We turn the page to darkness again, a window with blinds letting in a just peek of yellow light, the palate only using blacks, whites and yellows. "My heart can be closed," we read. On the next page, the window is open and the child peeks through into the yellow light... "or opened up wide," we finish.

The metaphorical text flows on, comparing the heart some days to a puddle, a stain, or heavy with rain. It can be tiny like a flower, "but tiny can grow ... and grow ... and grow."

Page turns lead us from a small sprout to a growing tree, then bursting with yellow, and finally a boy offering its flowers to the girl.

Some days a heart is a fence "between me and the world" and other times a whisper barely heard. Some days it's broken, "but broken can mend... and a heart that is closed can still open again."

Whatever our hearts are, the book ends, "I get to decide." This spare, beautiful and meaningful book is a keeper.

Alice B. McGinty (alicebmcginty.com) is the award-winning author of more than 40 books for children and the recipient of the 2017 Illinois Reading Council's Prairie State Award for Excellence in Writing for Children. Each summer, McGinty runs a writing camp for teens, Words on Fire.

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