From A Tiny Acorn.... As An Oak Tree Grows by G. Brian Karas
ON A SUNNY LATE SUMMER DAY, A YOUNG BOY PLANTED AN ACORN IN THE GROUND.
As the proverb goes, mighty oaks from tiny acorns grow. And when a pre-colonial Indian boy plants his acorn, he unknowingly chooses well, sending his influence down through the centuries.
On the sunny hillside, a little oak sapling grows and stretches up toward the light.
EACH FALL IT SHEDS ITS LEAVES AND EACH SPRING NEW ONES WILL GROW.
And as the oak tree grows, it changes the little world around it. Squirrels and birds make their homes there, and in time a settler comes and builds a small house nearby to enjoy the sun and the shade, the soil and the sight of the water sparkling below in the distance.
Time passes and the tree grows mighty, a giant in its own landscape. Below the hillside, farms, bridges, and piers appear to serve the ships that sail by and dock there. A bustling town develops, first with horse-pulled wagons, and then with trains, busy cars and trucks on the road. Tall-sailed ships yield to steamships and then sleek, fast pleasure boats as the bustling city grows. The little farm changes, too, as the little house is expanded to suit the styles of the times, and different children are born to build tree houses and dream in the oak's shade as they watch the passage of the ships and the passage of time.
And then a storm hits, a mighty storm, mightier than even the great oak itself, and a blast of lightning brings it down. Its mighty limbs and trunk are trucked away to be recycled into lumber and mulch, but one of its small acorns is left behind on the now-barren hill, ready to recycle itself, too.
ONCE AGAIN THE GROUND IS WARM AND WELCOME AS A NEW OAK TREE GROWS.
In his As an Oak Tree Grows (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2014), noted artist G. Brian Karas juxtaposes the changes brought by time and human activity against the constancy of the natural world, represented by that icon of sturdy long life, the oak tree. There is an unspoken message that perhaps the natural world is also the driver of all that bustling building--the sunny hillside, the fertile soil, the waterway beyond that connects it all to the world--they, too, are what makes it all happen.
Karas' charming illustrations of children working and playing as time changes around them gives young readers an understanding of the sweep of time, a conception of the fact that where they live hasn't always been the same and will not always remain as they know it. Karas uses the same device of a central image remaining while all changes around it that Virginia Lee Burton used in her classic Caldecott book, The Little House. and his message is the same, that some things change and some things endure.
There are many ways this book can be used in a teaching setting--as a bit of American history or even as an introduction to a nature study unit on trees, for which the author contributes an appended "Some Facts About Oak Trees." As School Library Journal points out, "This fascinating time capsule will spark nature and history discussions.” But like Burton's seminal work, Karas' detailed illustrations and lyric narration have the power to take youngsters beyond their immersion in themselves and their own present and see their world from the broader perspective of the flow of time.
Makes you think, doesn't it? That's what great picture books do.