After a huge tree falls in the forest behind her home, fifth-grader Ellie explores the area with her classmate Ricky, mapping and sketching and learning about what lives, dies and changes there.
Chapters describing seven trips into the forest (one at night) constitute the narrative here, couched as fiction but clearly primarily intended to convey information. Each opens with a spread illustrating the part of the woods they visit and closes with two pages from Ellie’s field notebook. The children are lucky: Ellie’s father is the forest manager, and her mother is a naturalist; they can identify and explain, but the two also consult appropriate references and explore on their own. Ellie’s drawings are distinctly childlike in style, less accurate and detailed than Herring’s colored pen-and-ink sketches that grace the margins of the story. In both, the plants, animals, insects and lichens are carefully identified. One chapter deals with moss and the tiny creatures that inhabit that Lilliputian world. Another looks at the ways trees rot. The author is clearly very knowledgeable about this ecosystem, but readers beyond the Pacific Northwest may find it hard to visualize. Several times, for example, she mentions salal, a bush that grows only in West Coast states.
Still, this combination of science and storytelling models good nature journaling and would be a helpful addition to a home or classroom in the region where such work is being encouraged. (suggested reading) (Nonfiction. 8-11)