Review Blog

Apr 21 2020

Peter and the tree children by Peter Wohlleben

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Illus. by Cale Atkinson. Schwartz Books, 2020. ISBN: 9781771644570. 40pp.
(Age: 4-10) Peter Wohlleben, a German forester, writes on ecological themes. His 2015 bestseller book for adults, The hidden life of trees, explains in simple language what trees feel and how they communicate. His writings are based on his own experience within forests as well as on scientific findings. Peter and the tree children is his first children's book (apart from a young readers' edition of The hidden life of trees titled Can you hear the trees talking) and it introduces children to the idea of tree families, the importance of old growth forests and the impact people have on the way forests grow. Peter explains to the reader in a letter at the start of the book that Piet is a real squirrel who lives in the forest around his home in Germany and that in the forest is a spot where no one is allowed to cut down any beech trees so that the tree family can exist and grow unimpeded.
The fictionalised story follows Peter as he leads Piet through the forest to find the tree children. Along the way Peter helps Piet to understand that trees often need the protection of older, taller trees to grow up properly, that heavy equipment compacts the earth so that it is difficult for little trees to thrive, that squirrels help start beech seedlings and that some trees release an orange-smelling distress signal. There is also some extra information about trees and their families given at the end of the story, which expands on the detail given within the story.
The cartoonish illustrations are pleasing enough but lack the grandeur that could have been useful for portraying the immensity and intricacies of the forest. This was a missed opportunity, as was the decision to focus on Piet and his lack of a family (as well as lots of seemingly empty text) rather than giving more time to the what, how and why of tree communication. This is inarguably an important book because of the pressing and unique nature of its message, but disappointingly it doesn't completely hit the mark.
Nicole Nelson

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