The best books about trees

38 authors have picked their favorite books about trees and why they recommend each book.

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The Overstory

By Richard Powers,

Book cover of The Overstory

For most of us writers, it’s hard enough to make people come to life on the page. In this Pulitzer Prize-winner, Powers manages to turn trees into memorable characters. A literary tour-de-force, The Overstory exemplifies why nonfiction authors like me, charged with conveying critical information to readers, study the story-telling alchemy of novelists. Recalling Picasso’s observation that art is a lie that gives us the truth, this deeply researched work of fiction reminds us that failing to respect our biological companions on this Earth, as our early ancestors did, risks not only losing them, but ourselves. Even though I’ve written about the environment for decades, after reading it, I’ll never again feel the same about forests and trees again. The Overstory doesn’t merely inform, it transforms.


Who am I?

I’m a nonfiction author whose success owes enormously to fiction. It challenges me to portray real people as vividly as characters in novels, and to use narrative and dialogue to keep readers turning the pages. Reading great novelists has taught me to obsessively seek exactly the right words, to fine-tune the cadence of each sentence, and to heed overall structural rhythm; continually, I return to the fount of fiction for language and inspiration. The astonishing novels I’ve shared here are among the most important books I’ve recently read to help grasp the critical times we’re living in. I’m confident you’ll feel the same.


I wrote...

The World Without Us

By Alan Weisman,

Book cover of The World Without Us

What is my book about?

How would the rest of nature fare if suddenly – never mind why – human beings vanished from Earth’s ecosystem?  How quickly could nature invade our vacated spaces, dismantle our infrastructure and architecture, refill empty niches, and heal the scars we’ve inflicted on this lovely planet? Would endangered species, relieved of our constant daily pressures, suddenly rebound? What about everything we’d leave behind – could nature eventually eliminate all our traces, or are some things we've created so permanent they're indestructible? Which human artifacts would last the longest?

These captivating questions, designed to seduce readers into thinking about the environment while there’s still time to save it and ourselves, made this book’s original edition an international bestseller, now in 35 languages. See for yourself why, in this 15th-anniversary edition with a new afterword.

The Hidden Life of Trees

By Peter Wohlleben, Jane Billinghurst,

Book cover of The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate –Discoveries from a Secret World

Peter Wohlleben is a forester who shares his remarkable observations of trees. Trees have a language—they communicate by chemicals from root to branch, and send scent warnings to other trees. For humans, the forest is more than beautiful; forest air is actually cleaner because the trees filter it. Wohlleben acknowledges the under-appreciated role of the soil microbial communities that keep forests alive, their heat production warming the roots in winter. Amazingly, trees even need “sleep” at night as we do. Producing light at night, as in cities, is not good for trees. As a scientist, I might question Wohlleben’s points here and there, but always enjoy his provocative ideas to explore further.


Who am I?

As a child in New England, I used to look up to the trees around my home and the stars beyond. The trees caught my gaze by day, their branches twisting into the blue sky. I imagined myself turning upside-down, so the branches actually plunged into blue water, like the tree-islands of my novel A Door into Ocean. By night I imagined falling off the Earth into the dark well of stars. My vision of stars ultimately morphed into the multicolored microbes of Brain Plague. The books on my list expanded my view of trees and stars into many dimensions. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.


I wrote...

The Highest Frontier

By Joan Slonczewski,

Book cover of The Highest Frontier

What is my book about?

A Cuban-American president’s granddaughter finds an alien ultraphyte crawling up a tree. The ultraphytes are blamed for Earth’s floods and fires. Jenny Kennedy escapes it all and takes the anthrax-powered space elevator up to Frontera College, a satellite amidst the high frontier of stars. Virtual worlds teach biology and colonial history, financed by a Native American casino. Jenny meets her neurodivergent roommate and starts research on intelligent plants. Yet even out in space, students cannot escape Earth’s disasters and invaders. Only Jenny and her roommate’s research might save Earth from itself.

Can You Hear the Trees Talking?

By Peter Wohlleben,

Book cover of Can You Hear the Trees Talking?: Discovering the Hidden Life of the Forest

Trees are part of the fabric of our lives. We depend on them for oxygen, shade, and lumber. Animals call them home. Yet, we often wander by trees without really seeing them. In this young readers’ edition of Peter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees, children discover how trees drink and breathe, how they talk, what they’re afraid of, how they clean our water, and so much more. You and your kids will never look at trees the same again.

Perfect for kids ages 8-10.


Who am I?

I’m a Sibert Honor author and write books for kids and teens about nature. Part biography, part science adventure, my books introduce readers to real scientists and the unexpected twists and turns of their discoveries. The more I research the more I discover hidden connections to our natural world that humble me and fill me with gratitude. I do my best to share these connections with readers in an accurate, truthful way to help them find their own “ah-ha” moments in life. I want them to say, “I can do this, too!”


I wrote...

Planet Ocean: Why We All Need a Healthy Ocean

By Patricia Newman, Annie Crawley (photographer),

Book cover of Planet Ocean: Why We All Need a Healthy Ocean

What is my book about?

The ocean’s story is our story. To prove it, Planet Ocean takes readers of all ages to three ocean regions to witness their unique connections to each other—and to us. On the journey, we’ll meet scientists working with new technologies, Indigenous peoples tackling changes to their traditional ways of life, and kids and teens who speak for our ocean. Through these stories the effects of climate change, ocean acidification, pollution, and overfishing become personal. QR code videos add an interactive storytelling dimension to show readers what happens beneath the waves when they’re not looking. By helping the ocean, we help ourselves. Planet Ocean is us.

Academy Award winning actor and environmentalist Jeff Bridges calls Planet Ocean “A must-read with your children.”

If I Were a Tree

By Andrea Zimmerman, Jing Jing Tsong (illustrator),

Book cover of If I Were a Tree

Behind weeds, trees are perhaps the most common plant many kids will encounter in their day to day lives, and another way children can access nature near home and school. And while trees are complex living things at the apex of the plant kingdom, they often are unnoticed and underappreciated. This beautiful lyrical picture book gives children a context to explore what a tree can do through kid-sized comparisons to what children can also do. Use it to help children explore one of the most common features of both urban and rural landscapes: trees.


Who am I?

I’ve been getting kids out into nature as an environmental education professional for over 30 years, in the garden, in the mountains, at the seashore, and in nearby nature. My life’s work, whether I am writing or teaching, is to help people experience the wonder of the natural world. I believe that children and adults need access to nature to grow and thrive, to find peace in a busy world, and to connect with each other. I know that, just like weeds, we can find a way to navigate the challenges in our lives when we connect with nature’s sustaining goodness wherever we find it.


I wrote...

Weeds Find a Way

By Cindy Jenson-Elliott, Carolyn Fisher (illustrator),

Book cover of Weeds Find a Way

What is my book about?

Getting kids outside into nature doesn’t require living next to a national park. It means exploring outdoors, wherever we happen to be. While many kids don’t have access to yards or school gardens, all children can connect with a special kind of plant, free of charge, every day: weeds.

Weeds are plants no one planted, growing in places no one intended them to be. Often reviled, weeds can be wonderful: adaptable, resilient, strong, and beautiful. Weeds Find a Way is a lyrical exploration of weeds’ adaptations to grow, reproduce, survive, and thrive, filling our world with fragrant beauty. And by looking at ordinary weeds’ extraordinary qualities, we discover our own ability to adapt and grow, survive and thrive, wherever we are planted.

The New Sylva

By Gabriel Hemery, Sarah Simblet,

Book cover of The New Sylva: A Discourse of Forest and Orchard Trees for the Twenty-First Century

This book contains exquisite pencil and ink drawings by Dr. Sarah Simblet who teaches at The Ruskin and Christ Church, at Oxford University. Her observational work is second to none and through it, she explores the relationship between science, history, and art. She is dedicated to sharing visual intelligence and promoting understanding through art.  This is complemented perfectly with the text by Gabriel Hemery who gives an in-depth insight into the value of one of our most treasured assets – the trees of our land.


Who am I?

I'm a self-taught artist and sometimes a sculptor. I'm best known for illustrating the Discworld novels of Sir Terry Pratchett which I have been working on for almost 30 years. Not having had formal training, looking at the work of other artists was an important part of my learning. I have a large collection of art books and have been inspired by all sorts of creatives ranging from Leonardo Da Vinci to Jamie Hewlett. I'm often drawn to draughts-people who have a scientific approach to their work and limited use of colour. If I can’t escape to a gallery for inspiration I can always turn to the pages of a book.


I wrote...

Terry Pratchett's Discworld Imaginarium

By Paul Kidby,

Book cover of Terry Pratchett's Discworld Imaginarium

What is my book about?

I am delighted to present Terry Pratchett’s Discworld Imaginarium: a comprehensive collection of my own illustrations painstakingly selected after many weeks spent rummaging through my portfolios. The resulting pages of this book not only look back at works past, but they also look forward – with newly created artworks in celebration of the amazing ongoing legacy that Sir Terry Pratchett created for us all.

Wishtree

By Katherine Applegate,

Book cover of Wishtree

Red, a monoecious oak tree, narrates this luminous and beautifully illustrated novel. Red is two hundred and sixteen rings old and happily provides shelter for seven opossums, four raccoons, five owls, six skunks, and a witty crow named Bongo. Together, Red and the animals concoct a plan to support Samar, a girl whose family has just moved into the neighborhood. Samar hasn’t made any friends yet, and she’s feeling sad and lonely. Wishtree is about inclusion and community, but at its heart, it’s a love song to the trees and creatures that call urban areas home. Have tissues ready: Samar’s comforting middle-of-the-night visits to Red and Bongo will have readers wiping away a tear or two. 


Who am I?

I live in Madison, Wisconsin, and when I’m not reading my way through a tall stack of library books, I love to exercise and explore the outdoors, particularly in the Northwoods and in the Driftless Area (Google it—it’s the coolest!). My debut novel, Crossing the Pressure Line, is about identifying the lifeboats that have the power to save us during turbulent times. One of my own personal lifeboats is nature. I spend time outdoors every single day, even when the temperature is below zero, because I find deep peace in breathing fresh air, using my muscles, and watching for signs of wildlife. 


I wrote...

Crossing the Pressure Line

By Laura Anne Bird,

Book cover of Crossing the Pressure Line

What is my book about?

My middle grade novel is about Clare Burch, a deeply reflective twelve-year-old who grieves the untimely loss of her grandfather, puts her self-confidence to the test, and learns how to listen to the courageous voice inside. It’s the perfect book for tween girls who love swimming, animals, fishing, art, and setting fierce goals for themselves. 

Crossing the Pressure Line celebrates a sense of wonder and reverence for the natural world, which I believe is essential in these times of cell phones, social media, and virtual everything. Go outside! Get dirty! Move your body! Sweat! You’ll experience a rush of endorphins while seriously recharging your battery.

Just Under the Clouds

By Melissa Sarno,

Book cover of Just Under the Clouds

Just Under the Clouds is a beautifully written story about tough yet gentle Cora, who fiercely protects her younger sister as the family struggles with homelessness. This story shows how bravery comes in many forms, including as a quiet, loving strength. This book stayed with me well after I finished it. The author managed to capture a serious issue in a magical, compelling story. The tree imagery is wonderful.


Who am I?

I have dedicated my personal and professional life to expanding opportunities for girls and women and cultivating leadership skills. All of my books portray girls as main characters who exhibit bravery in many ways. They have joined the French Resistance in World War Two, chased enemy soldiers during the Civil War, delivered messages in the middle of a Revolutionary War battle, and fought for women’s rights in classrooms, workplaces, science labs, and at home. They’ve also been brave by building self-reliance and confidence in times of trouble and trusting their own abilities to make decisions and take action. I've recommended five books that exemplify these characteristics and are examples of outstanding writing.


I wrote...

Skylark and Wallcreeper

By Anne O'Brien Carelli,

Book cover of Skylark and Wallcreeper

What is my book about?

While helping her grandmother evacuate during Hurricane Sandy in New York City, twelve-year-old Lily uncovers secrets of her granny’s past in the French Resistance in World War II. Part history, part mystery, this award-winning novel has an action-packed plot that underscores the importance of friendship, family, courage, and loyalty in the face of difficult times.

Finding the Mother Tree

By Suzanne Simard,

Book cover of Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest

Suzanne Simard’s journey into finding a deeper understanding of the forest cracked the code on a truth that has been there all along. How many times I have walked through a forest and not in million years did I imagine those trees were talking. Not just talking but supporting each other in elaborate networks that uncannily mirror the way we humans take care of each other. Simard’s scientific findings are a beautiful insight, and her passion reminds us that there is so much more than meets the eye going on below the surface. This book about the fungal communication networks in the forest, speaks to my heart deeply about the undeniable connectivity in all of life. It is a book that shows us how when you seek, you shall find truth.


Who am I?

The material I've been drawn to on the topics of consciousness, connection, technology, and futurism have been magnetic.  In my purpose as a writer, I had a calling to explore the way systems in our universe work, from the fungal communication networks in forests to the formation of universes light years beyond our naked eye and our evolving place in it all. When it comes to technology and spirituality I'm all in on the research. I’ve imbibed countless books across these schools of thought and the most incredible part is when the dots between all of them connect and I find ways to weave them into a narrative story. 


I wrote...

Seneca Rebel

By Rayya Deeb,

Book cover of Seneca Rebel

What is my book about?

In the not-too-distant future, math genius Doro Campbell is introduced to the Seneca Society: a secretive, technologically-advanced subterranean utopia dedicated to inventing and perfecting the most effective ways to benefit our planet. But there’s a hitch. Like all that have come before her, Doro is given the ultimatum: Stay in Seneca forever, or leave now with no memory of the place, its goals, and its inhabitants. She stays.

Her ideals are shattered when, together with biotechnology whiz, Dominic Ambrosia, Doro uncovers profound deceptions beneath the surface of this all too-perfect community. Will one teenage girl have what it takes to go up against swarms of drones, psychological manipulation, and biological attacks, to uncover the truth and change the trajectory of the world?

Emma Oliver and the Song of Creation

By Susan Elizabeth Hale,

Book cover of Emma Oliver and the Song of Creation

Soon to be a musical, this enchanting story is about an eleven-year-old girl who doesn’t know she can sing until she gets to know an oak tree in her garden, Annie Oakly, who becomes her best friend and is actually a tree spirit. As the story unfolds, and Emma is confronted with family troubles, she learns of her own vital role in saving the trees; Emma must sing! 

I’m recommending this book because of my own love for both trees and music. In fact, I often sing to the redwoods where I live and sometimes imagine they are singing along with their rustling squeaks and creaks. The author tells a story grounded in everyday problems, such as living with a grandmother with dementia, while bringing the fantastical and magical world of nature vividly alive.


Who am I?

I grew up playing in nature: body surfing the waves in Southern California, backpacking in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, swimming in rivers. For the past thirty years, I’ve lived in the redwoods of Northern California. Spending so much time in the peace and beauty of nature has filled me with joy and deep respect for the incredibly interconnectedness of living ecosystems. I’ve also had a lifelong passion for reading, especially fairy tales, fables and fantasies. Combining nature and fantasy in my writing allows me to explore ideas and inspirations about how we can live in harmony on our one beautiful planet.


I wrote...

Wind

By Ellen Dee Davidson,

Book cover of Wind

What is my book about?

Thrust by an earthquake into a world where trees are wise helpers, animals can guide us to safety, stories are gathered by the guardian of the deep sea, and greed becomes a place where everything turns to poison, Katie must learn to get along with an annoying alien boy, Za, in order to return home. But as Katie’s experiences test her environmental awareness, will she ever be able to develop her gifts of listening and communicating with the non-human realm? Will she and Za ever figure out the secret to finding the elusive Winged Ones – the only beings capable of taking them home?

Treemendous

By Bridget Heos, Mike Ciccotello (illustrator),

Book cover of Treemendous: Diary of a Not Yet Mighty Oak

How can something as small as an acorn grow to the height of a skyscraper? Treemendous: Diary of a Not Yet Mighty Oak illustrates the life of a tiny acorn growing up to be a tall oak tree. It uses delightful and humorous text and adorable illustrations to communicate the basic science behind this phenomenal happening in nature. What a wonderful way to learn about our nation’s tree.


Who am I?

My love of children, nature, the arts, and reading have been the inspiration for my books. Growing up on a farm was the perfect place to satisfy my curiosity about nature. I enjoyed being in nature from sunrise to sunset. Not really knowing what I wanted to be when I grew up, I decided to major in elementary education where I could share my love for learning and keep growing, creating, and learning from my students - even as they learned from me. Through the years I wrote rough drafts and made sketches for stories filled with intriguing ideas, and respect for nature that I aspire to complete to share with others as children’s books. 


I wrote...

Sammy's Big Change

By Sue Garnett, Lisa Cooley,

Book cover of Sammy's Big Change

What is my book about?

In Sammy’s Big Change I wanted to capture the beauty of a caterpillar embracing metamorphosis and the challenges facing a duckling as he transitions to maturity. The idea of these two improbable creatures becoming friends and taking us on their journey to flight was created to entertain as well as to teach about life’s time-honored theme - change. Look for its companion book, Eggar on the Inside. Both books include a section of additional knowledge at the end that provides answers to children’s questions and helps jump-start further exploration.

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