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Drawing Inspiration from The Wisdom of Trees

The Wisdom of Trees: How Trees Work Together to Form a Natural Kingdom

Written and Illustrated by Lita Judge

Published in 2021 by Roaring Brook Press

Grades 2 – 8

Book Review

Whether or not you already identify as a tree lover, reading Lita Judge’s multigenre picture book, The Wisdom of Trees, will lead you to view earth’s amazing forests in multifaceted new ways. Judge deepens readers’ understanding of and respect for the interconnectedness of trees by presenting current research on tree communication, framing forests as communities. Drawing on the groundbreaking findings of forest ecologist Suzanne Simard, Judge offers a series of poems in the voice of a variety of tree species that highlight how trees can share resources, alert other trees to danger, provide for their offspring, and make our environment cleaner and healthier. For example, a poem reads, “We clean the air / and seed the clouds,/ we drench the thirsty land/ with rain./ we are like/ wizards. One of the many amazing aspects featured in the book is the Wood Wide Web, a network of mycorrhizal fungi, which allows trees to convey electrical and chemical signals to their neighboring trees. Each poem appears on a double page spread accompanied by engaging expository text that offers further explanation and watercolor paintings that immerse the reader in different forest ecosystems. Judge includes extensive back matter: an author’s note, additional information for each page in the book, her sources, and recommended websites. This beautiful poetry collection belongs in classrooms across the grade levels for students to explore again and again as their understandings of interdependency grow. We can all benefit from The Wisdom of Trees and this powerful message about care, community, and conservation. 

Teaching Ideas: Invitations for Your Classroom

Note to our Readers: These ideas are not meant to be prescriptive. Choose one. Choose more. It’s up to you. Some ideas are bigger and will take a number of days to complete. Some are shorter. You can also choose to complete one part of a teaching idea, but not the whole thing. It’s up to you!

Visual Literacy: Picturing Trees. Before reading The Wisdom of Trees with your students, select a few of the illustrations to project using a document camera, inviting students to discuss what they notice. Use this as an opportunity to find out what students know about trees and what they wonder. This multigenre book is rich with information about the roles that trees play in an ecosystem and newly discovered information about how trees form a community, supporting one another and the animals that make their homes in and near trees. After reading The Wisdom of Trees, collaborate with your art specialist or a local artists to support students to create paintings of trees, connecting with new knowledge and new appreciation.  

Wood Wide Web. Your students will be fascinated with the idea that trees communicate with one another through the “Wood Wide Web.” Learn more about this phenomenon by exploring the resources (text and video) in the Further Explorations section below. Forest ecologist  Suzanne Simard’s TED talk is a powerful example of the processes of science. Invite students to use art, text, or media to express their understandings of how trees connect to and support the growth and health of one another. 

Tree Poetry. Lita Judge has composed a collection of poems using the voice of the trees she features. Provide students with the opportunity to explore other poetry about trees, including Doug Florian’s Poetrees (our earliest Classroom Bookshelf entry), Andrea Zimmerman’s If I Were a Tree , Kristine O’Connell George’s Old Elm Speaks: Tree Poems, and Tony Johnston’s Sequoia. Invite students to use these tree poems as inspiration to compose their own. 

Nonfiction Poetry. Expand the teaching invitation above by looking at nonfiction poetry more generally. Begin with a duet model exploration of The Wisdom of Trees and Winter Bees and Other Poems of the Cold by Joyce Sidman. Notice the structures of the book, how poems are connected to expository text and related to material the author has provided in the back matter. Note the role of the illustrations in the books, created by Lita Judge and by Rick Allen, how do they enhance the sensory experience of the poems and the nonfiction information that is shared? What poetic techniques and tools are used in the poems – how do they convey information about the world? Next, share additional collections of nonfiction poetry with your students to explore more forms, formats, and author and illustrator choices. Additional Classroom Bookshelf entries that focus on nonfiction poetry include: A Place to Start a Family: Poems About Creatures That Build, Water is Water: A Book About the Water Cycle, Raindrops Roll, Outside Your Window: A First Book of Nature, and A Full Moon is Rising: Poems.

Who Are the Trees in Your Neighborhood? Work with your local conservation department or a local arborist to learn more about the trees in your community. Take a walking tour if possible. Connect with your local historical society or local library archives district to view photographs and maps about how the forests in your area have changed over time. Make note of whether streets or neighborhoods may be named after tree species found in the area.  Find out more about laws in your community that regulate the cutting of trees. In which area of your community are trees protected by law? As an extension, students could take photographs of or draw or paint the notable trees in your community and create a class book sharing what they have learned. 

Interdependence in Ecosystems. Include The Wisdom of Trees in a text set that focuses on interdependence in nature. Visit our Classroom Bookshelf entries on Welcome to the Neighborwood, Meadowlands: A Wetlands Survival Story, No Monkeys, No Chocolate, High Tide for Horseshoe Crabs, Planting the Wild Garden, Buried Sunlight, as well as additional tree titles: A Grand Old Tree, Trout Are Made of Trees and The Second Life of Trees. What kinds of relationships are explored in each title? Place students in small working groups, each focusing on one of these titles. Provide students with large chart paper and invite them to represent the interdependence featured in their book in visual format. 

Speaking for the Trees. Through her poems, Lita Judge gives voice to many different kinds of trees (your students may make connections to the animated movie, The Lorax, based on the Dr. Seuss book of the same title). The Wisdom of Trees adds depth to the concept of tree voice, highlighting new research evidence that trees speak to one another. Invite your students to identify either a tree in your community, or a tree elsewhere that is personally significant in some way, and compose a monologue (in prose or poetry) from the perspective of that tree. What has that tree seen over time? What does the tree need? What would the tree like to see? Students can also create visual art to accompany their monologue. Create a digital display of the students’ art with voice-over of the students’ reading their compositions. 

Listening to Nature. In her author’s note, Lita Judge describes sitting with her back against the trunk of a thousand year old oak tree in England. Her reflections in this spot led her to a life altering career change. She poses the question: “Was it the tree’s wisdom that seeped into my body, or the sanctuary it provided, allowing me to feel my own?” This experience speaks to the power nature holds for prompting reflection. Read this author’s note aloud, and offer your students the opportunity to sit and listen to the natural world. This could even happen by playing audiotracks from nature in order to offer moments of quiet stillness and contemplation in the classroom if it is not possible to be outside. Notice that this may feel uncomfortable for some, since contemporary life is often filled with sound and media input at every moment. Share with students additional titles that focus on nature, reflection and mindfulness, such as Brenden Wenzel’s  A Stone Sat Still and Julia Denos’s Here and Now

Tree Ring Text Set Model. Due to the extensive listing of sources and resources that Lita Judge has provided in the back matter, The Wisdom of Trees, is ideal for exploration using the Tree Ring Model. In this text set model, students read through the sources used by the author, noting how these sources were used to create the final text. Students can also watch this short video, created by Judge or her book launch session at Politics and Prose. Next, share two titles with students that also focus on the Wood Wide Web and tree communication, Maria Gianferrari’s Be A Tree and  Peter Wohleben’s Can You Hear the Trees Talking? Discuss the intended audiences for each of these books along with the format and content choices made by the authors. If time allows, invite your students to create their own texts that share information about trees and the Wood Wide Web in a format and modality of their choosing. 

Critical Literacy

Trees and Global Warming. In the back matter of The Wisdom of Trees, Lita Judge highlights the role that trees play in the health of our planet. Make connections to the loss of Redwood trees due to wildfires, sharing Jason Chin’s Redwoods and current news stories, such as this NPR story. Students can learn more about trees and climate at Trillion Trees and may be inspired to advocate for trees by reading books like Franck Prevot’s picture book biography, Wangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees. Engage students with the concept of climate justice by sharing the New York Times article: “Why an East Harlem Street is Thirty One Degrees Higher Than Central Park West.”What are the issues? How can students help to raise awareness? 

Further Explorations

Digital Resources

Author/ Illustrator Website: Lita Judge

Making of the Wisdom of Trees

Politics & Prose Interview: Lita Judge & The Wisdom of Trees

BBC World Service: Secret Life of Trees: How They Talk to Each Other

TED: How Trees Talk to Each Other: Suzanne Simard

One Earth: Welcome to the Wood Wide Web

NPR’s Fresh Air: Trees Talk to Each Other

Books

Bang, M. and Chilsom, P. (2009). Living Sunlight: How Plants Bring the Earth to Life. Ill. by M. Bang. Blue Sky Press.

Bissonette, A.M. (2021). The second life of trees. Ill. by N. Stone. Albert Whitman. 

Chin, J. (2009). Redwoods. New York: Macmillan.

Denos, J. (2019). Here and now. Ill. by E.B. Goodale. Candlewick. 

DePalma. (2005). A Grand Old Tree. Arthur A. Levine.

Florian, D. (2010). Poetrees. Beach Lane Books. 

Gianferrari, M. (2021). Be a tree! Abrams. 

Sayre, A. P. (2008). Trout are Made of Trees. Ill. by K. Endle. Charlesbridge.

Sidman, J. (2014). Winter bees and other poems of the cold. Ill. by R. Allen. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 

Winter, J. (2008). Wangari’s Trees of Peace. New York: Harcourt.

Wenzel, B. (2019). A stone sat still. Chronicle

Wohleben, P. (2019). Can You Hear the Trees Talking?: Discovering the Hidden Life of the Forest. Greystone Kids. 

Zimmerman, A.G. (2021). If I were a tree. Ill. by J.J. Tsong. Lee & Low. 

Erika Thulin Dawes About Erika Thulin Dawes

Erika is a professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former classroom teacher, reading specialist, and literacy supervisor, she now teaches courses in children’s literature, early literacy, and literacy methods. Erika is the co-author of Learning to Write with Purpose, Teaching with Text Sets, and Teaching to Complexity.