'The Strong Tree' teaches children to grow through adversity

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The Strong Tree by Liz Cavanaugh (Gatekeeper Press)
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"Plant your roots deep in the ground and don't let the storms blow you over. Just let them help you grow your tree bigger and stronger."

That is the metaphor at the heart of "The Strong Tree" ( Gatekeeper Press), a simple story by Liz Cavanaugh for children ages 5 to 12, with wonderful illustrations by Angelina Valieva.

While the book provides a basic lesson in how seeds become trees that change over time, it also gives children some larger ideas to ponder. "This book is about how we grow when we go through hard times in our life big or small," says the author. "The hard times just make you stronger."

In the book, Cavanaugh traces the life of a tree, from the day a bird flies over a grassy field and drops a seed, which is rooted into the ground where our tree begins to grow. The young tree faces several small storms, but what one might view as a hazard is quite the opposite, as the rain helps the tree grow. The storms keep recurring, but each time the sun eventually shines through.

Even when a particularly hard storm comes and knocks the tree around, the damage is limited to a few lost leaves. As the tree goes on to face more "adversity" in the form of the storms, it becomes stronger after every one, with more nourishment and deeper roots.



The story is accompanied by Valieva's illustrations of a wide variety of trees — from the bare wintering perch of an owl to elaborate and fantastical canopies made of a variety of flowers, leaves, feathery fractal-like plumes, and garlanded vines. The result is a colorscape of intricate shapes with a dreamy atmosphere that's sure to fascinate young children.

The author then invites her young readers to use their creativity to imagine what their own strong tree might look like — big or small, leaves or no leaves, the colors, and any birds or animals there. It's also a chance to ask your child about what storms they've weathered, talk about what they learned from them and point out how they've grown as a result.

"The moral of the story is we all go through hard times," says the author. "The sunny days are the good days. The stormy days are the bad days or difficult situations we go through. With each storm we go through, we learn a lesson and become stronger."

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