Friday, March 29, 2024

If a Tree Falls...

One Day This Tree Will Fall     
By Leslie Barnard Booth; illus. by Stephanie Fizer Coleman 
40 pages; ages 4-8 
Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2024

theme: trees, ecology, life

Look at it. Wounded, worn, twisted, torn. One day this tree will fall and this story will end.

But before that day, we should know how this tree began as a tiny seed, folded inside a cone. Using lyrical language, Leslie Barnard Booth shows how this tree grew, surviving the challenges of storm and wildfire. And she shows how, even as it dies, it provides life for the forest.

What I like about this book: I love how Leslie shows a Douglas fir tree as more than just a tree; it is a habitat for hummingbirds and squirrels, spiders and insects. Even after it falls it continues to provide a place for moss and fungi to grow, a home for ants and salamanders, and hollow spaces for larger animals to curl up and nap. This is a perfect life cycle story, accompanied with lovely art. You’ll never look at a tree the same way after this. And there is Back Matter! So if you want to learn more about life, death, and life after death in the world of the Douglas fir, Leslie’s got you covered.

I’ve got an oak trunk lying beyond my garden that I’ve been watching for the past handful of years. It was struck by lightning and threatened to fall, so we had to cut it. Most went to firewood, but the trunk was so big that we decided to leave it to nature. It’s one of my favorite places to explore (currently at the lichen, moss, fungi stage). So I knew I just had to ask Leslie a Couple Questions:

Me: How did you come to this structure, this way of telling the story? 

Leslie: The seed of this story came from a few places. At the preschool my children attended and where I worked for a time, a group of kids in another class were doing this amazing study of a rotting stump. They were dissecting it and learning about all the little critters that lived inside it. At the same time, I was reading Peter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees. This book made me think of trees differently—as responsive organisms with dramatic life histories. The incredible drama of a tree’s life is often hidden from us because it occurs on a timescale too long for us to observe and appreciate. But in a book, we have all the time we want! We can spend 1,000 years watching a single tree! So, I knew I wanted this book to cover a tree’s whole life, and to be dramatic—to show the tree’s active struggle to live. I decided I wanted the reader to care about the tree, to love the tree, to identify with it, so that the idea of the tree eventually falling and dying is sad. But then, I wanted to prove to the reader that trees live on, even after they die. Which is true! A dead tree, as those preschoolers discovered, is absolutely chock full of life. So, knowing that’s what I wanted to accomplish, it occurred to me to set up the story of the tree almost like a cradle to grave biography, but one where the concept of “grave” is upended. Because, in the context of a forest ecosystem, a tree’s story has no end. 

Me: Did you explore other ways of telling the story?

Leslie: The initial version of the book was called GROW and it included more emphasis on the way the tree reacts and responds to its environment. My editor wanted to really focus in on the tree’s death and decay as the heart of the story, and she was so right! Which is all to say that the basic structure stayed the same, but that I had to chisel away some major pieces to make space for the book's central theme to really come through. 

Thank you, Leslie. And now, let’s do some activities that take us…

Beyond the Books:

Go log-looking. When you find a downed trunk or a stump, take some time to really look at it. Draw a picture of moss, lichens, fungi and other things growing on your log.

If you find a small log, look around it. Are there nooks and crannies for animals? If you can roll it a little bit, see what’s hiding under it – just remember to roll it back.

Collect tree seeds and plant them. Acorns, pine seeds, maple seeds, sycamore, buckeye … put a couple seeds in an old yogurt cup with some soil and see what grows! Just be mindful of where you plant it once it starts growing. 

Leslie is a member of #STEAMTeam2024. You can find out more about her at her website.

Today we’re joining Perfect Picture Book Friday. It’s a wonderful gathering where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copy provided by the publisher.


  1. I'm looking forward to reading this book. It's on my TBR list! Congrats to Leslie!!

    1. Thank you so much Jilanne! :)

  2. I love A Stone is a Story - the tree book looks like another winner!