The Secret Life of Trees is a hard-back educational story book about the life cycle of trees. My first impressions were very good. It is a large hardback so it feels nice and weighty in my hands, but not too heavy that a child couldn’t carry it. The cover features a lovely illustration of a tree along with some cute animals, and although the illustration isn’t particularly eye-catching, it has a shiny, embossed accent which really takes the quality to another level.
Upon opening the book, the first few pages are all solid colour as opposed to the default white. This makes me think that more care and attention has been put into making the book and as I start to turn the pages, I am impressed with the texture and feel. They are thick and matt which feels nice and would probably last through quite a few reads.
There is a content page giving me a hint that it is quite lengthy. In fact, I found the book was quite a bit longer than expected, almost thought it was too long. The words were extremely detailed, but I think it could have gotten away with omitting some of the content as I had a general feeling of slight boredom as I got toward the end of the book. I think that I would consider reading the book in stages if I was reading to a child. As the tree talks about different stages in life, it almost has a ‘mini’ story in each stage. In this way, it could be possible to read each stage or chapter at a time, and not even in the same order to make it easier to keep a child’s attention. My initial reaction is to dislike how it breaks the rules of consistency like this, but setting itself out from the crowd like this is what seems to make this particular book work.
The book packs in facts and educational information from the point of view of a tree. The tree ‘speaks’ to the reader, taking them through its life cycle and that of its inhabitants. This works really well, and the addition of the very cute animals makes it more fun to read than just information about trees. The illustrations are cute and suitably ‘natural’ in colour and style. The text is broken into paragraphs dotted about the page between spot illustrations. This is good to break-up the rather large amount of text, but it got a bit confusing at times, with me reading the text in the wrong order or missing a paragraph completely. On some of the pages I faced some very large blocks of text and was put off immediately. Despite being very well written and charming, the pages which featured less text just seemed to work better.
It is a collection of short stories, albeit with a running theme, but this is not mentioned anywhere on the outside of the book and I was actually pretty surprised with what was inside. It is by no means a disappointment, but I would have liked to have seen something on the cover that hinted at the practical guide inside. Another point would to have had the main character as a tree on the cover too.
There are a few human characters who are featured throughout the book. I was pleased to find a good example of diversity in gender, race and age. The stories were from different countries all around the world, it was a nice touch to see their origins listed. I didn’t really find any of the stories that outstanding, they were merely a means to explain the tree’s story which took centre stage. Some of the people were illustrated so small that they felt like they had been squeezed in around the real reason for the book; the facts.
The facts on each page remind me of an encyclopaedia – they are well presented with bullet illustrations and in some cases numbered or with an accompanying diagram. I could imagine getting ‘lost’ in the book and studying it over and over. It was quite a lot of information to take in on one read even for an adult so I could imagine a child, even an older child, struggling with the barrage of school-like information. I fear kids might view it as a chore to read rather than fun. Although there are some activities that families could take part in in the real world. Activities like planting trees and other eco-friendly interactions.
Getting toward the middle of the book I hadn’t tired of the lovely illustrations. Some of them spanning a double page spread and some taking a rollercoaster ride around the text. Each turn of the page offered something different and creative, it was interesting to see what would appear next! As each chapter passed, the main tree got older until toward the end of the book he appears old and wise. A nice touch.
There is a lot packed into The Secret Life of Trees and after reading it all I would describe it as a ‘bumper guide to trees’ – there was so much inside, that it was too much to tackle in one go and would have to be split in several readings and re-readings. It is a well-made book that holds a lot of information. This would be an excellent addition to a school or children’s club, with its educational approach and interactive format, but for home reading, I can’t see it being a favourite due to its lack of fun and silliness. Sometimes simple can be better.