cover image There Was a Tree

There Was a Tree

Rachel Isadora. Penguin/Paulsen, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-399-25741-4

Isadora (Bea at Ballet) brings a traditional cumulative folk song (“And the green grass grew all around, all around...”) to the African savannah. In her version, the hole in the ground is discovered by an African mother and her children; the tree is an acacia sapling growing next to a lion and her cub; and the bird is a superb starling, a beautiful creature with a black face and midnight blue wings who hatches a chick from a speckled egg. Her collages are composed of painted and patterned pieces of paper in vivid greens and hot oranges; outlines and facial features are overlaid in woodblock-like black lines. African textile motifs border the pages, and thumbnail images substitute for key words as the verses build up (“Oh, the chick in the egg, and the [picture of a bird] on the egg, and the [picture of an egg] in the nest”), turning the song into an absorbing rebus puzzle. It’s also a gentle push toward opening up one’s own storytelling tradition to the rest of the world. Musical notation and a rebus key are included, too. Ages 3–5. (Oct.)