Try saying to your children, "Trout are made of trees." Assuming they know what trout are, they will think you are nuts, which perhaps you are, and they won't be shy about letting you know. But then, in a effort to restore your credibility, read them Trout are Made of Trees, by April Pulley Sayre, illustrated by Kate Endle (Charlesbridge, 2008, ages 4-7). "See?" you can say at the end. "I was right. You're made of trees too!"
This book tells of the journey from trees to trout, as two kids and their parents explore along a stream bed. The story sways between dreamy undemanding prose--"In fall, trees let go of leaves, which swirl and twirl and slip into streams" -- and crisper statements of fact -- "Bacteria feed on the leaves. Algae grow, softening surfaces." And the leaves are eaten by the shredding creatures, who are eaten who are eaten and so on, till we get to the trout. The result is a challenging book, vocabulary-wise, but the pictures help--in the bacteria section, for example, the kids are shown looking at rotting leaves with a magnifying glass--bacteria and algae must be small. And the impetus of the story carries the reader along, without calling out for much additional parental commentary.*
In short, this is lyrical science--not the non-fiction of straight explanation. The collage illustrations by Kate Engle also tend toward the lyrical as opposed to the science textbook. But collage when done well, as it is here, has a magical realism about it. In much the same way, a complicated story about nature is told in a way that a child can understand.
From my personal experience reading this at home: this isn't perhaps the easiest book to sell to the type of child that demands you read fact heavy books over and over again, but it's probably good for them to see science presented in different ways. And there are two fact heavy pages at the end that were much appreciated. My younger boy found the stream creatures enchanting; we spent a long time admiring the shredding creatures, and the little trout hatchlings.
Charlesbridge has organized a great competition in conjunction with this book. Find out more about Be a Stream Hero by going here and scrolling down till you see it.
Trout are Made of Trees is the first book by April Pulley Sayre that I've read, but Vulture View has been on my To Read list for ages (well, since it was short listed for the Cybils a few weeks ago). And now I'm curious to read Trout, Trout, Trout: a Fish Chant. Here's an interview with her over at A Year of Reading.
Illustrator Kate Endle has been guest blogging at Black eiffel--there are several posts, so keep moving forward in time to read them all, till you get to the contest (!) at the end. And how unselfish it is of me to let others know about it...
*I would like to say that it is nice that the author assumes we know what predators are. Of all the books about predators and prey I've read with my boys, this is the only one I can think of that doesn't stop and define it. But I could be wrong.
(Charlesbridge kindly sent me this review copy)