“Take Five” with Before We Stood Tall

Today on “Take Five” I’m recommending Before We Stood Tall: From Small Seed to Mighty Tree. This picture book was written by Jessica Kulekjian and illustrated by Madeline Kloepper (Kids Can Press, 2021).

From the front flap:

“Discover the extraordinary life cycle of trees—in reverse! From mature tree to young tree to sapling to sprout to seed. A lyrical narrative and lush art show budding arborists the majesty of the forest and the science of how trees communicate with one another through each stage of life.”


What’s Novel or Noteworthy?

  1. Effective metaphor: From the first line—“Before we were a mighty kingdom of trees…”—the author introduces the metaphor of a kingdom, suggesting the regal nature of a forest. She carries this metaphor throughout the text by choosing words such as “clothed” and “crowned.”
  2. Unique point of view: The book is told from first-person plural point-of-view, where the trees are “we.” What a simple and clever way to convey the scientific fact that trees live in community and support one another!
  3. Surprising structure: We are familiar with life-cycle books that start with seeds. But this book begins with mature trees and works backwards to seeds. In addition to adding interest, this structure highlights how current circumstances depend on prior events and conditions. It’s a subtle lesson on cause and effect.
  4. Literary language: Kulekjian uses several literary devices to enhance the read-aloud quality of her book. Here are a few examples:
    • Alliteration: “seeds settled,” “greeted the ground”
    • Personification: roots “found,” “wove,” and “whispered”
    • Imagery: seeds on the soil are “sinking into its inviting hug”
  5. Back-matter bonuses: The back matter adds additional fun facts about trees, including how their roots are connected by “threads of fungi called mycelium” that allow trees to communicate and share nutrients. And isn’t it amazing to think that perhaps one in a million sugar-maple seeds grows into a mature tree?

On a Personal Note…

This book is just one example of the creativity that goes into today’s nonfiction. So many kids read to learn, and great nonfiction books push open that door to learning. But many adults inadvertently close that door by only have fictional stories available. When that happens, many kids who don’t care about made-up stories decide they don’t really like to read. We can change this! As parents, caregivers, writers, teachers, and librarians, we can make sure kids have access to excellent nonfiction. By doing this, we encourage everyone to get excited about reading.

There is research to support this. Scientist and author Melissa Stewart cites these stats:

According to a study published in Reading Psychology in 2017, 42% of elementary students preferred expository nonfiction. Another 25% preferred narratives (fiction and narrative nonfiction, which tells a true story or conveys a real experience), while the remaining 33% enjoyed both writing styles equally.

This quotation is from an article Stewart penned earlier this month for Publishers Weekly. If it piques your curiosity, please click the link and take a couple minutes to read on: https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-authors/article/89848-soapbox-children-s-nonfiction-has-an-image-problem.html

Can you tell I’m passionate about this? As a nonfiction author myself, I have seen the explosion of fantastic nonfiction that’s become available for kids in the last few years. These books inform, yes, but more importantly, they inspire. They inspire wonder. They inspire inquiry. They inspire creativity. They inspire action.

If you’d like names of specific nonfiction books to consider, I’m happy to share titles. I’ll continue to feature nonfiction often on “Take Five” here at “Cup of Tea with Cindy.” In a future blog post, I’ll share lists of award-winning titles. These lists make a great starting point for finding fabulous nonfiction. In the meantime, feel free to drop me a comment or question at https://cynthiaargentine.com/contact. Thank you, and happy reading!

2 Responses to ““Take Five” with Before We Stood Tall”

  1. Kathleen Swayze

    Wow! This never occurred to me: “So many kids read to learn, and great nonfiction books push open that door to learning. But many adults inadvertently close that door by only have fictional stories available.”
    Great observation!