A Grand Old TreeMary Newell DePalmaArthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic 2005ISBN 0-439-62334-0
A Grand Old Tree describes the life cycle of a tree in story form. Rather than introduce the tree as a series
of discrete parts, (leaf, fruit, seeds), the narrative’s simple, descriptive sentences present the tree as an
ever changing living organism. This general overview offers many jumping off points for discussion in the classroom.
Take a nature walk:
- Observe tree trunk textures
- Examine tree shapes
- Collect leaves, seeds, fruits and/ or flowers
Think about trees:
- Draw a picture of a tree
- Describe a tree that you have seen. How did you notice the tree?
What kinds of things do you like about the tree?
The tree evolves and changes during the story
- Look for other animals in the story that evolve and change
(birds hatch from eggs, caterpillar turns to a butterfly, squirrels have babies)
- Do you think a tree lives longer than an owl?
a caterpillar? a squirrel?
- How did you feel when the tree died?
- What so you think would happen if the tree did not “crumble back into the earth?”
- What do you think would happen if trees did not die?
- Figure out which season is a beginning season, like a young season.
- How do you think that the cycle of seasons is like a life cycle?
- How do you know that people grow and change?
- How do you think people’s lives are similar/dissimilar to tree’s lives?
- What do you think this prhase means, that trees “change the landscape for miles around”?
(provide shade, prevent soil erosion, provide something beautiful to look at,
attract animals because of the food and shelter, etc)
- Trees can’t move. Are there ways that trees can affect the world beyond their immediate surroundings?
(we eat fruit from faraway trees, we can live in homes and sit in chairs made from trees,
their seeds can grow in faraway places)
- What are ways that a tree “sows” seeds?
- Sort leaves by shape
- Note the size and shape of seeds, sort andcount seeds
- Categorize trees by species
- Figure out how many different kinds of trees you saw on your nature walk,
or that you can see out the window
- Think about the number of leaves on a tree—do you think there really are many millions?
The characteristics of living things are that they:
Do you think a tree is a living thing? Find evidence of these characteristics in the text. Thanks to teacher Kari Snyder for thinking of this--she warns that 'eating' is tricky, but her first graders figured out that the sun is an energy source for trees, and that is pretty darn sharp!
Many reference books are available on trees. Use them to:
- Identify trees by their leaf shape, seed, or fruit
- Talk about how important scientific illustration has been
in the history of science before photography, and even today.
- Look at examples of botanical illustration
- Make a botanical illustration of a leaf, seed, or fruit
Discuss weather and seasons:
- What kinds of weather do you think trees need?
- Why do you think rain is important for trees?
- How do you think water gets from the roots to the leaves of a tree?
- Why do you think trees need the sun?
- Do you think there is a reason that leaves are green?
- We change our clothes for different weather. Can you think of ways that trees adapt to different weather?
- Think about the ways that trees look different in different seasons.
Think about and discuss physical changes associated with tree growth and aging:
- What are the ways that a tree trunk changes as a tree ages?
- When do you think a tree begins to grow fruit?
- Why do you think trees have leaves that grow and die each year?
- Why do you think the tree branches 'bent and swayed' but then 'snapped and cracked?
- Why do you think the older branches were stiffer? What kind of problems do you think this might cause?
- Do you think our human bones could be like tree branches in some ways?
How might that be so?
- In what ways do people look different as they grow and age?
- Can you think of ways that people might feel different as they become older?
Make a matching list of other organisms and their relationship to trees:
- Bees pollinate flower so fruit will grow
- Birds live in trees, twig nests, eat some fruits and seeds, spread seeds
- Squirrels live in trees, leaf nests, eat some fruits and seeds, spread seeds
- Owls live in trees
- Worms turn organic matter into compost
- Lichen help to decompose wood
- Caterpillars eat leaves
- People carbon dioxide--oxygen cycle, eat fruit, use wood
- Find verbs in the past tense ( –ed) nested, scurried, crawled, swayed…
- Find alliteration
- Find examples of anthropomorphism. (‘her arms’, ‘she’, ‘danced’…)
- How does anthropomorphism make you feel about the tree?
- Talk about the contrast between ‘swayed and danced…cracked and snapped’
- Make up your own contrasting descriptive phrase about being young and old
- ‘Grand’, ‘gently’ ‘slowly’ are adjectives and adverbs used in the story —how to they make you feel?
- Write about your favorite tree
A Grand Old Tree is a circle story, it seems to end where it began.
- Talk about this
- List cycles that you know of—night and day, seasons, ocean tides, going on a journey and coming back home, etc
- Write a circle story
- Make rubbings of leaves and bark
- Make tissue paper collages like the illustrations in the book
- Make a series of drawings about the life cycle of a plant or tree
- Use color to represent seasons
- Use color and shape to represent moods
- Make positive/negative shape illustrations
Examine the illustrations:
- Find happy illustrations
- Find a sad illustration
- In what ways do the colors or shapes in the picture help to describe the mood?
- In what ways does the season or time of day affect the mood of the illustration?
- Look at the positive/negative shape relationship between the
illustration of roots and the illustration of branches.
Move like a tree in the wind:
- ‘Sway and dance’
- ‘Crack and snap”
- Reach for the sky like branches
- Sink into the earth like roots