Saludos, readers! In light of Earth Day (April 22) and National Poetry Month I am delighted to present to you a very special book that perfectly celebrates a child’s relationship to nature through bilingual poetry. Call Me Tree/Llámame árbol, written and illustrated by Maya Christina Gonzalez, is a beautiful book that manages the unique achievement of being gender neutral.
Here is a description from Goodreads:
In this spare, lyrically written story, we join a child on a journey of self-discovery. Finding a way to grow from the inside out, just like a tree, the child develops as an individual comfortable in the natural world and in relationships with others. The child begins “Within/ The deep dark earth,” like a seed, ready to grow and then dream and reach out to the world. Soon the child discovers birds and the sky and other children: Trees and trees/ Just like me! Each is different too. The child embraces them all because All trees have roots/ All trees belong. Maya Christina Gonzalez once again combines her talents as an artist and a storyteller to craft a gentle, empowering story about belonging, connecting with nature, and becoming your fullest self. Young readers will be inspired to dream and reach, reach and dream . . . and to be as free and unique as trees.
As you might surmise from the Goodreads summary, this book is about a child who embodies nature by becoming a tree. The poetry carries the reader through the child’s imagination, from growing into a tree to the discovery of other diverse children-trees, and includes a metaphorical message that suggests all trees, like all people, belong in the world.
The book has received a lot of attention for its non-gender specific protagonist. This was a very deliberate decision made by the author. In an interview with The Huffington Post, Gonzales stated “By being gender free, Call Me Tree provides for some a much needed break from the constant boy-girl assumptions and requirements. It can also provide a moment to pause and consider those assumptions, requirements and their impact.”
She went on to describe how a strict gender binary in our society can have devastating effects on children who are developing their identity. “Gender nonconformity is one of the leading causes of bullying and can have long lasting, even tragic consequences. By beginning early and sharing age appropriate books that help kids see through gender assumptions, gender creative kids can relax and trust that they are perfectly natural and valuable.” Having a non-gender specific protagonist opens up the possibility that it’s ok not to know the gender of a child, and thus the book creates a safe space where people can be themselves and still fit in no matter what.
Apart from the progressive gender-neutral message, what I found to be most valuable about the book is that it can allow students to feel a simultaneous connection to nature and their community. This will hopefully lead readers to feel inspired to embrace their own individuality, while seeing commonalities between themselves and others at the same time.
I view the book as a good tool for multicultural teaching not simply for its bilingual format but because it supports positive lessons related to acceptance, equality, and diversity. That the text is in poetry form lends to the celebration of nature in a beautiful way, and allows it to be used in classroom activities that relate to poetry.
Here are some resources to assist in teaching with this book:
- A note to readers in which the author explains why she chose to use a gender-neutral character, shares tips for when and how to use the book in an educational setting, and provides extra resources for teaching about gender.
- An educator’s guide from Lee & Low Books that includes a book summary, background, focus questions, vocabulary, discussion questions, reader-response and other writing prompts, English Language Learner support, and interdisciplinary activities.