Dear Maria Gianferrari,
A few weeks ago, my partner bought a copy of Be A Tree from our local bookstore. She is an early-years educator and read the book to her children recently. The kids loved it. Your story, along with Felicita Sala’s illustrations, warmed them. They had, I'm told, so much fun imagining what it’s like to be a tree. I’m hopeful too that it will play a tiny part in their connection with nature and society. (Their center, by the way, has a little garden which the kids help to care for. They love watering plants, watching insects, and plucking vegetables.)
Thank you for writing such a wonderful book. And thank you also for incorporating themes of diversity and community. My partner tells me that it is still difficult to find cultural representation in children’s books. Hopefully, more writers and illustrators like yourself and Felicita will come along to change that in the near future.
Perhaps I should add that I really enjoyed your book as well. Before my partner read it to the children, she had a test run with me. And as she can attest, I was just as enthralled as the kids. There is something inherently spectacular and fascinating about the way in which tree-like structures manifest. This is so not only of the wood-wide-web, but in the geometries inside us—from our branch-like lungs to our circulatory networks to the neuron forests in our brains. The same is similarly true of society. Just look at our branching arterial highways or the virtual forests of the world-wide-web. They extend also to our mentals models and abstractions, from the phylogenetic trees in biology to the combinatorial trees in game theory to the random-forest algorithms in machine learning. Even language is tree-like. Every phoneme, word, sentence, or paragraph is the preceding stem of branching possibilities. Trees and forests are everywhere.
Indeed, many cross-connections were firing and forming in my mind as I listened to my partner’s rendition of your book. So thank you.
In his book Writing to Deadline, Pulitzer Prize winner Donald Murray includes a memorable interview with the journalist David Arnold. Arnold says in particular that if we want to improve our writing, we should study great children’s books. I wholeheartedly agree. I admire, for instance, how you’re able to distil complex ideas and make it all flow so seamlessly. I was wondering then, if you have the time and inclination, to provide some insight into your craft and process? How do you cultivate your stories? What sorts of things do you think about when writing? Can you share any secrets about your lovely way with words? How do you make the magic work?