I received a copy of Alison Ashley Formento's THIS TREE COUNTS right after Earth Day, but let me tell you, I will be pushing it next Earth Day, and the next... and throughout the year. Not only is it a counting book, it has a beautiful environmental theme about the importance of trees and the impact they have on our lives.
     No secret to me. When I was a kid I talked to trees all the time and often declared them my best friends (humans came later). Ashley and I appear to have that in common...

Q.     How did you get the idea for THIS TREE COUNTS!

A.     My inspiration came from a huge old Oak tree in a local nature preserve where I walk several times a week. This particular tree is twisted, leaning across a stream and full of character and I wondered what it might say if it could speak. I wrote a simple ten line poem about ten animals in a giant tree telling its story, which sat unfinished in my computer files for nearly a year.

Q.     What was your path to publication?

A.     I saw an editor from Albert Whitman & Company speak on a panel at an SCBWI conference. After the conference, I submitted a story to her, which she rejected, but invited me to send something else, which I did. That story too, got a personal rejection and a note to send something for the very young, perhaps with a counting theme. I remembered my tree poem and worked on shaping it into a story, adding the children and teacher to hear the tree's tale, and how it encourages them to plant more trees. I ran that early version through my critique group, and then submitted it to the editor at Whitman. Four months later, I received an offer. In my case, third time was the charm. The revision process was smooth, as my editor really saw the story the same way I did, as did the illustrator, Sarah Snow. A year later, THIS TREE COUNTS! is out and I couldn't be happier with the final product.

Q.     What was your reaction when you saw the beautiful artwork by Sarah Snow?

A.     Speechless! Sarah was kind enough to send me an early jpeg illustration of the children in the story and wrote that she hoped I liked how she was portraying the kids. When I opened that email, I danced and bounced around my house all day. The kids, the animals—every part of my story has come alive through her illustrations. Most of all, the tree Sarah illustrated is full of life just as I imagined when I first wrote that ten line poem. I had the pleasure to finally meet her in person at a BEA event and I have to give our editor at Albert Whitman kudos for matching us together. Whenever I share THIS TREE COUNTS! at a school, library or bookstore, I always talk about the cover of the book first and how we know how the boy feels about the tree just by looking at Sarah’s illustration. Not only is he hugging the tree, he’s listening to it. Sarah’s illustrations mesh with my words exactly as I’d hoped they would.

Q.     Do you talk to trees? Why are they important to you?

A.     Let me answer that second question first. Trees are important for so many reasons, many of which are in my book. Beyond the obvious reasons such as how trees help clean our air or provide the world with food and shelter, I think trees are important because they are ever-changing and truly beautiful. Finding beauty in the world means a lot these days, and trees are nature’s sculptures that anyone can enjoy.
     As for the second question—sure, I chat with and about trees everyday, especially now. I hug them, too, and do my best to listen. If we didn’t have trees, well…it’s too sad to even fathom that scenario. That’s why we have to continue to plant trees. There are a lot of fabulous organizations doing just that and I’ve chosen to donate a portion of my proceeds to American Forests,
which is our nation’s oldest non-profit conservancy group. American Forests has a global re-leafing initiative with goals to plant trees in those areas most in need, particularly those places affected by natural disasters like earthquakes or hurricanes. Trees do count, but the people who appreciate and plant them count, too. If you’re having a bad day, hug a tree, you’ll feel better. If you want to feel great, then plant a tree. It’s the best feeling in the world.

I couldn't agree more!!! :) e

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