A Forest in the City
A Forest in the City
Trees have many stories to tell. They have helped shape the history and growth of cities around the world.
But before there were cities at all, the First Peoples carved homes from the forests and green spaces near the rivers, lakes, streams and oceans where they lived. They had a deep connection to the land and the trees.
As new people arrived, sometimes from far away, they cut down the trees and dug up the roots to make way for more homes and paths, then roads and buildings. They built houses and furniture and made tools. They burned the wood to cook their food and warm themselves.
Some trees continued to grow near the outskirts of these early cities or in woodlots that were accessible to everyone. A few were left near churches, temples, mosques or by the city walls where people gathered to celebrate or to sell goods on market day. Wealthy people cultivated trees in their private walled gardens.
A Forest in the City is the first entry in Groundwood Book’s thoughtful new “ThinkCities” series, inspired by “the urgency for new approaches to city life as a result of climate change, population growth and increased density.” This narrative nonfiction picture book looks at the many benefits trees bring to urban environments and also explores the many challenges trees face in a concrete jungle.
Award-winning author Andrea Curtis traces the early history of trees in cities, pointing out how public green spaces like New York’s Central Park and London’s Victoria Park were created as an antidote to the Industrial Revolution, offering metropolitans access to clean air and the healing power of nature. Curtis then digs deep below the soil to explain the root system which operates as a communication system for trees (dubbed the “Wood Wide Web” by scientists).
In a conversational style, Curtis leads an engaging, nature-in-the-city tour that takes a leisurely-paced stroll through many topics. A plethora of fascinating (and sobering) information is shared, such as the fact that many city trees don’t live past seven-years-old. The many threats to the health of urban trees are detailed, from harmful, invasive species of insects, to the artificial light from street lampposts that disrupts natural rhythms.
Montreal artist Pierre Pratt’s gouache illustrations are vibrant and verdant. Bustling, colourful street scenes show briefcase-carrying business folk pounding the pavement beside joggers and dogwalkers. These stylized characters are in hurried motion, with their heads forward and eyes to the concrete. In contrast, the relaxed park scenes appear in soothing shades of green and seem to be like a calm, cool breath of fresh air. The meaning of the text is also enhanced by the artwork, with cut-away diagrams of a tree trunk, with labelled layers, for example.
The enormous contributions trees make to our lives are clearly elucidated: “Every day, a single mature tree between forty to seventy feet (twelve to twenty-one meters) tall can provide four people with enough oxygen to breathe.” Trees also provide other important benefits too, including fighting climate change and improving people’s mental and physical health. Our actions do have a direct impact on the urban forest, and a double-page spread entitled “Speak for the Trees!” offers nine initiatives that young readers can do to help, from adopting a tree, to advocating for decision makers to planting trees in neighborhoods that don’t have canopy cover. A glossary and list of selected sources rounds out this well-researched resource.
Hug a tree, and hug a copy of A Forest in the City.
Linda Ludke is a librarian in London, Ontario (nicknamed “The Forest City”).