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Children interested in trees? Thinking of doing a tree study unit? Here are some great books about trees for children. We're posting this list to celebrate the Festival of the Trees blog carnival that we're hosting this weekend.

Nonfiction Books:

Life Cycle of a Tree The Life Cycle of a Tree by Bobbie Kalman, Kathryn Smithyman, and Barbara Bedell (illustrator) has beautiful photographs and full-color illustrations. The chapters cover such topics as what is a tree, what is a life cycle, and how seeds move. This is a great informational book.
A-Log's-Life A Log's Life by Wendy Pfeffer, and illustrated by Robin Brickman is for young children who enjoy turning over rocks and looking under logs. This book talks about the importance of the tree, and the log that remains after the tree falls, to the community of animals, plants and fungi around it. The illustrations are unique 3D paper sculptures.
A-tree-is-growing A Tree Is Growing by Arthur Dorros and illustrated by S.D. Schindler is suitable for a range of audiences. It follows an oak tree through the seasons. Along the way are interesting sidebars of other species. Did you know that baobab trees store water in their trunks and actually swell up? The paper is dark and the illustrations are not the bright primary colors associated with picture books, but are very lifelike.
be-a-friend-to-trees Be a Friend to Trees (Let's-Read-and-Find-Out, Stage 2) by Patricia Lauber, and illustrated by Holly Keller, is part of the popular Let's-Read-and-Find-Out-Science series. The emphasis of this book is how useful trees are. Starting with products and foods we use that come from trees, Lauber then devotes several pages to how many animals need trees for food and homes. Finally she moves to less concrete benefits of trees, such as holding soil and water, and producing oxygen. The last three pages are devoted to simple ideas of how you can be a friend to trees through activities like recycling and planting a tree.
Tree-of-life Tree of Life: The World of the African Baobab (Tree Tales) is written and illustrated by Barbara Bash. The baobab tree survives in a harsh environment and is leafless for most of the year. In fact, legend says that the tree was planted upside down. From this beginning, Bash relates the story the life cycle of the tree and all the creatures that depend on it. The watercolors are beautiful.
cactus Hotel Cactus Hotel (Big Book) by Brenda Z. Guiberson and illustrated by Megan Lloyd discusses the life cycle of a saguaro. It's easy to forget that a cactus like a saguaro can be a tree. Once again, this book covers the life cycle of a unique plant found in a harsh environment that is home to many creatures.
planting-trees-in-kenya Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Maathai (Frances Foster Books) by Caire A. Nivola tells the story of Wangari Maathai, who won the Nobel Peace prize in 2004. Maathai returned to Kenya after studying abroad, to find the trees gone and the people struggling. She encouraged everyone to plant trees again to restore their environment. The nice thing about this book is that it is printed on recycled paper.
tell-me-tree Tell Me, Tree: All About Trees for Kids by Gail Gibbons
Starting out with general information abut parts of trees, such as seeds, leaves, bark and roots, Gibbons emphasizes identifying trees. She illustrates the overall shape, leaves and bark of sixteen different trees (although she also identifies leaves and trees throughout the earlier pages as well.) At the end she shows how to make your own tree identification book with pressed leaves, and leaf and bark rubbings. The last page is full of unusual and interesting facts about trees, sure to entice children to want to find out more.
life-cycle-oak-tree Life Cycle of an Oak Tree (Life Cycle of a...) by Angela Royston. Starting out with an acorn, and following an oak tree through its life cycle until it is hundreds of years old, the young reader learns both about the developmental process and the vocabulary needed to discuss it. The centerpiece of the story is an English oak, which can live for 900 years. What a venerable tree!Illustrated with clear, colorful photographs, and with a timeline on each page, the book is visually appealing.
Sky-tree Sky Tree: Seeing Science Through Artby Thomas Locker and Candace Christiansen follows a tree through the seasons. Although frankly more about art than science, this book is likely to lead to discussions of art techniques and the changes that occur during the seasons.
poetrees Poetrees by Douglas Florian is as the title implies, a book of poems about trees. Florian includes poems about trees from around the world like the banyan and monkey puzzle, not just common North American ones. The layout consists of vertical, two-page spreads, giving the feel of looking at a tall tree. If you are familiar with Florian’s illustrations, you will recognize his unconventional art.
Leaf-man Leaf Man (Ala Notable Children's Books. Younger Readers (Awards)) by Lois Ehlert is inspiring because the author is such a wonderful artist. In this book, we see leaf shapes with added plant materials that form a funny leaf man. When the wind comes up, who knows where the leaf man is going to go.

If you would like to see more information about each book, click on the linked title, which will take you to the Amazon website. See the financial disclosure page for more information about my affiliation with Amazon.Please let us know if you have any favorite books about trees to add to the list.

This-Tree-Counts This Tree Counts! by Alison Formento and illustrated Sarah Snow is a counting book that shows all the creatures that depend on the oak tree behind the Oak Lane School. After counting all the creatures and learning about uses of trees, the children plant "baby trees."
we-planted-a-tree We Planted a Tree by Diane Muldrow and illustrated by Bob Staake is a picture book with poetic text. It shows two families who plant trees, one in New York City and one in Kenya, then follows with trees growing throughout the world.
Our-tree-named-steve Our Tree Named Steve by Alan Zweibel and illustrated by David Catrow is a bittersweet story about the loss of a tree that meant a lot to a family. You might want to read this one first if your children tend to be sensitive, to see whether it is appropriate.
Leaf-and-Tree Backyard Explorer Kit: 3-in-1 Collector's Kit! by Rona Beame is for children who love hands on activities and want to learn more about trees. The kit includes a 3 1/2 by 8 inch Leaf and Tree Guide to trees (that will conveniently fit in a pocket or backpack), a plastic leaf-collecting bag, and an unbound 25 page Leaf Collecting Album. The guide has information about trees, how to identify a number of common species (with color photographs of specimens), and 16 hands-on activities.
Trees, Leaves and Bark Trees, Leaves & Bark (Take-Along Guide) by Diane Burns and illustrated by Linda Garrow is useful as a first identification guide to a few common North American trees.
leaf-jumpers Leaf Jumpersby Carole Gerber and Leslie Evans is a simple, poetic introduction to identification eight types of fall leaves. Leaves shown include ginkgo, sycamore, and basswood. Then the children sweep up leaves and jump into the pile.

Edit: If this list is hard to read or becomes outdated, we are now maintaining it at Science Books for Kids.

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Did you ever wish you could take your children on a walk in the woods, but for whatever reason it was not possible? Here in Arizona when the temperature exceeds 115°F, we start looking for alternatives to a hike outside. Here are a few places for fun and educational virtual hikes. If nothing else these sites can give you ideas for things to do during actual walks.

Designed with children in mind:

The Smithsonian National Zoo has "A Walk in the Forest" with six different animated walks. One allows you to take soil samples and measure soil pH. Another helps you learn how to identify trees using keys. Each is led by an animation of a real employee of the zoo. How cool is that!

University of Illinois Extension has a virtual walk in the woods and Secret life of trees. Both show photographs of actual forests. There's a teacher's guide with ideas, resources and many extras.

For children or adults:

Ever wanted to visit a redwood forest? Muir Woods has a virtual tour. There are 92 photographs, and you get to choose where you look next. The virtual tour always has good weather.

Florida Hikes has slide shows from various Florida parks.Check out the giant snails at Pine Land. Isn't fun to see how different the landscape is at the different parks?

Finally, YouTube has a number of videos of walks. I like this one because the tour guide discusses, what else, science!

Hope you enjoy these virtual walks in the woods, and can talk your own walk soon.

Where's your favorite place for a hike?

This week let's continue tree science by investigating water movement through trees, and learning how to measure the height of a tree.

1. Tree Transpiration

Transpiration is a fancy word for the movement of water out of trees and other plants. Did you know that almost twice as much water enters the atmosphere through plants as through the surface of the oceans? (Another benefit of trees!)

Gather:

  • a nearby tree (outside) with branches you can reach
  • clear plastic baggy for each child
  • chenille or twist tie to hold bag around branch (enough for each child)

You might want to gather enough of these materials to compare branches on different parts of the tree and/or branches on different types of trees. (You will see the best results on a hot, sunny day.)

Place the bag over the tip of a branch so that it contains at least one leaf. Use the chenille or twist tie to close the bag around the branch to hold it closed. Make a prediction about what will happen. Now wait for 15 or 20 minutes and check the bag. See anything? Try again after 1/2 hour.

The bag should fill with moisture and condensation. Each tree leaf has tiny holes called stomata. Moisture exits the holes not only to cool the tree (like our sweat does for us), but also to help plants move materials up from the roots.

Were there any differences between different parts of the tree or different kinds of trees? What do you think would happen if you did the same experiment at night?

You can also perform this experiment indoors if you place a cut tree branch in a water-filled vase. Be sure to place the tree branch in a sunny window or under a bright lamp to encourage water movement into the plastic bag.

Extension (for older students):

Make up and perform experiments to test the factors that influence transpiration:

  • temperature
  • sunlight intensity
  • water supply
  • tree growth rate

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Where does the water come from?

Most plants and animals need a lot of water every day. Trees absorb the water they need through their roots and then move it up to the leaves through the xylem.

2. How far does the water have to travel from roots to top of the tree? Let's learn how to measure the height of trees.

There are several different methods to measure the height of any tall object, including a tree.

Method 1 (requires math):

Gather:

  • a stick
  • a tree that is apart from other trees (so you can see its entire shadow at least one time of day)
  • tape measure (longer the better)
  • paper and pencil

For this activity, you will need a sunny day. Place the stick upright in the ground near the tree. Use the tape measure to measure the height of the stick from the ground, and the length of the resulting shadow from the base of stick. Also measure the longest length of the tree's shadow from the base of the tree. Assuming the two ratios are the same, solve for the height of the tree by multiplying the length of the tree's shadow x (the height of the stick/the length of the stick's shadow). See the illustration:

tree-height2

I found this video that discusses two other methods. You will need a second person to help you and a measuring tape.

Now, how far does the water need to move? If you take into consideration that a tree's root may be a large or larger than its crown, then a tree one hundred feet tall may have to move water two hundred feet or more. That one big straw!

Let me know if you have any questions or other methods for measuring trees.