Sequoia by Tony Johnston & illustrated by Wendell Minor
Pros: illustrations, book design, content, notes at end, introduction to sequoia trees
A fossil cradled in your hand connects the holder with a piece of ancient history, from perhaps the time when dinosaurs walked the planet, or even before, and while this awesome experience impresses young people it doesn’t hold a candle to the impression felt while standing at the base of an ancient sequoia or redwood tree. As someone who has professionally studied forests and trees, a zillion thoughts and memories surfaced while reading Tony Johnston’s Sequoia. As someone who has stood at the base of some of these giant trees I also felt familiar emotions tugging at me.
Sequoia, however emotional it is for this adult, was destined to be a children’s picture book elegantly illustrated by the talented Wendell Minor. Some might argue with the third-person voice but that made it possible for the tree’s story to be told – its very long story in a picture book length.
He tells of woodpeckers tapping and firs conversing in the wind, he tells of winter and how he gathers snow to him, he smells the rain in storms and enjoys listening to choirs of singing frogs. He tells of the cycles that have existed around him for centuries and through the seasons. He often throws wide his ancient arms with joy and gathers something to him – sometimes stars, snow, owls, or a crow.
The voice of the tree, aided by Johnston’s imagination and research, combines with Wendell Minor’s detailed, yet soft, brilliantly painted illustrations. Suitably, some images require rotating the book to enjoy the double-page image of the tall tree. When the story concludes I strongly urge readers to sift through the last page’s brief notes about sequoias that compare the tree to the other tall California tree – the redwood.
The tallest giant sequoia is 311 feet and the tallest redwood is 379 feet and both are ancient. However, Johnston points out that sequoia trees are the oldsters who live up to 3200 years while redwoods are “young whippersnappers” that live maybe 2200 years. The book builds an appreciation for these rare trees and the notes, supported by research, also describe climatic threats to these tall giants.
The notes include an acknowledgment to one of my all-time favorite books, Richard Preston’s that gave Wendell Minor insight into the tree’s upper-story environment and canopy. It shows in his paintings.
Written as an introduction to the habitat of a giant sequoia for the purpose of fostering an appreciation for this amazing tree species the author’s approach is intended for children. It does, however, tug at the conscience of adults who currently value the tree and share concerns for the tree’s future. Minor’s illustrations conjure up sensual memories that let me imagine feeling the morning air, smelling the heat rising from the forest duff and hearing the wind converse with the trees. All said, this trip down memory lane for me will be one enjoyed by children who are meeting these large trees for the first time. If possible locate a copy of James Balog’s book, , and continue the introduction through its incredible photographs.
Johnston and Minor partner to provide a memorable introduction to an awesome tree in Sequoia. While indigenous to California, perhaps this tree will encourage searching locally for equally amazing trees. Thanks to both of you.