Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Strange Trees: And the Stories Behind Them

Strange Trees: And the Stories Behind Them

Bernadette Pourpuie
Illustrator:  Cecile Gambini 
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Princeton Architectural Press, 2016   ISBN: 978-1616894597

It is said that there are times when fact is stranger than fiction. This is certainly true when you look at the natural world, which is full of strange and bizarre organisma. For example, there is a whale with a horn growing out of its forehead, a fish that has a lure - complete with a light - that hangs in front of its mouth, and insects that disguise themselves to look like flowers, sticks and even bird poop. Animals are not the only ones who have evolved to have ‘strange’ adaptations. Plants, including trees, also have adapted in very special ways.

For example there is the Saman tree. Often, when it starts to rain we humans take shelter under a tree, the leaves of which protect us from the raindrops. People who run under a saman tree are likely to get rather a shock because this tree has no interest in having others use its leaves as little umbrellas. When it starts to rain, the leaves of saman trees fold downwards so that “the rain can flow down.” It does this so that its roots can get the full benefit of the rain. What is also interesting is that this tree belongs to the legume family. In other words its cousins are beans!

Another tree that is perhaps even stranger is the Artic willow. This tree lives in a very inhospitable environment where winters are long and frigid. The ground and sea freezes, cruel winds scour the land, and yet this hardy tree is able to survive. It is able to do so by growing no more than five inches off the ground, and it sends its branches creeping outwards instead of up.

Then there is a species of baobab tree, an enormous tree which looks as if it “has roots on its head.”  This grand tree has very small and “bare or barely leafy branches” that so resemble roots that the tree looks as if it is upside down. This native of Madagascar is beloved of bats and lemurs, which dine on the tree’s flowers and fruit. The tree’s large potbelly-like trunk can store several gallons of water, which sustain it during drier months.

In this very special book, sixteen species of tree are described in a colorful and amusing way, and children will be astonished when they read about these wonderful and strange species. Some of the trees that they encounter will be familiar, species like the Cocoa tree and the giant Sequioa. Many others will be new to readers.

Inside the back and front covers of the book, readers will find a world map that shows them where the trees mentioned in the book can be found.