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Maria Salvadore

Reading Rockets' children's literature expert, Maria Salvadore, brings you into her world as she explores the best ways to use kids' books both inside — and outside — of the classroom.

Making the world a better place one tree at a time

April 11, 2011

I get to meet lots of people, travel to distant places, and often learn things I never even thought could be in the least bit interesting. I've just met another intriguing man in a place I've only heard of, and found out about an idea that's working to improve the lives of people who live in arid climates.

I didn't even have to leave home to do all of this. I just picked up a recent book by author/illustrator Susan Roth about a scientist named Dr. Gordon Sato whose work in a village in Eritrea, a small county in east Africa, is helping to better the lives of its citizens and change the world.

The book is The Mangrove Tree: Planting Trees to Feed Families (Lee & Low).

It all started with the idea to plant mangrove trees by the sea. These hardy trees need very little rain (a good thing, too, since little rain falls in Hargigo, Eritrea) which would provide leaves to feed animals which will help the people feed themselves and their children — all while improving the environment. Roth's textured collage illustrations help build a strong sense of place and the lively people who live, work, and play there.

It's a fascinating story which can be used as a simple cumulative rhyme with younger children or with older children as an informative narrative is included. An afterword provides even more information about Dr. Gordon Sato and the people of Eritrea in both straight text and full color photographs.

But even more, this handsome book reminds us — adults and children alike — that one person's actions can have big results. It takes time and patience and a bit of know-how — but it all starts with just one individual with an idea.

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"The things I want to know are in books. My best friend is the man who'll get me a book I [haven't] read." — Abraham Lincoln