Be a Tree, Q&A w/Maria Gianferrari + GIVEAWAY!

“Maria Gianferrari has climbed fig trees in Italy, stood under stately coastal redwoods and twisted Torrey pines, marveled at mitten-shaped sassafras leaves, colorful coral trees and sawtooth oak acorn nests. She lives with her family, including dog, Maple, in a house encircled by trees.”

Jennifer: Maria, your book, Be a Tree, written by you, and lusciously illustrated by Felicita Sala is spectacular. Congratulations to you both! 

Maria: Thanks, Jennifer! I’m a fan of your art. I love the new paper mache bird heads you’ve been making ?.

Jennifer: Ha! It’s fun to have a non-book making outlet ?. Thank you so much for taking the time to visit Picture Book Builders and sharing the story about writing this special book with us today.

Maria: Thanks for having me! I’m an avid Picture Book Builders blog reader.

Jennifer: This book feels very whole to me. You have written such a relevant story and used very few, well-chosen, glorious sounding, words. At the back is an informative author’s note as well as specific information about trees and an environmental ‘call to action’. In your author’s note you talk about always loving trees but being particularly inspired by the book, The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben. What gave you the idea to draw the parallels between the physical attributes of a tree and our own human bodies?

Maria at Redwood National Forest

Maria:  In Wohlleben’s book I learned of the ways that trees in a forest talk to, help protect each other and share resources which got me thinking about the parallels between cultures that might be more individualistic rather than communal. I then began to think of individual trees and how their anatomy sort of lends itself to those comparisons: their bark protects them, like our skin does. Our arms are like their branches, and the trunk acts like our spines. 

Jennifer: And part of that question is that it’s great when you have a cool idea, but how did you take that idea and come up with a whole story— to make the point that one person makes up part of a community, much like a tree makes up part of a forest?

Maria: It was a pretty logical leap to make the connection between one person/one tree and a forest being like a family. What really brought it to life was when I discovered that different species of trees help each other—so much so that when one species of tree is removed, other neighboring trees are also affected. The different tree species are connected underground by mycorrhizal (Mike-o-RYE-zal) fungi (another amazing thing!) a so-called wood wide web. 

When we as diverse people, from all different races, cultures, genders, abilities and faiths work together, like different species of trees, then we are stronger. When things are more equitable, and resources are shared, then our communities are healthier and happier.

Jennifer: How was the making of this book different from your other books?

Maria: The actual making was not that different from my other books, but this was one of those manuscripts that magically came together—the words flowed out, so that it remained pretty much intact through the revision process. Some of the sections were tweaked and moved around and shifted slightly, but it was more or less like this in its first iteration, which rarely happens.

If you know of my other books, you can easily tell I’m an animal lover—all of my current titles feature an animal of some kind. The fiction books feature dogs and the nonfiction ones focus on wild creatures. Though this is a nature-focused book, it’s my first book not directly about an animal. I was happy to see that Felicita peopled it with creatures nonetheless ?. 

Jennifer: Your concept is relevant and meaningful. Your writing is poetic and beautiful. And the illustrations are breathtaking. I feel that your book is a great example of a successful picture book being the perfect marriage between text and illustration. Felicita Sala does a terrific job of making and maintaining two main characters in the book. Both the tree and the human are given equal billing. I just love the way she mimics the look of different trees with that of a human. Such as posture, skin tone, etc. Did any illustrations surprise you?

Maria: You are very kind to say that—thank you, Jennifer! For me, one of the most thrilling things about being a writer of picture books is that magical moment when I see my words brought to life in the artist’s images. I had long been a fan of Felicita’s gorgeous art, so I knew it would be beautiful, but I was still surprised, delighted and wowed by every single spellbinding spread—they were all so enchanting, full of charming details, things like the old man’s tattoo, and the carving in the tree. 

The diversity of trees, places and people really make the book come alive. Felicita’s art is so expressive and full of feeling. I am so happy and truly grateful that we were able to collaborate on a book together. It is a dream come true! 

Jennifer: Do you have a favorite kind of tree and do any of its attributes match your favorite kind of person?

Maria: Probably the simple and yet elegant white pine. I love its minty scent and whitish-green colored needles and the rusty carpet fallen needles make on the forest floor. White pine people are loyal and trustworthy, confident and yet humble, if that makes sense. They don’t need to be the center of attention—they are ordinary and yet extraordinary, like the kinds of creatures I enjoy writing about. 

Jennifer: What else would you like us to know about you and your book?

Maria: I grew up in a small town, and climbed many a tree as a young girl. I am still a nature girl at heart. This book is my love letter to trees and forests. I hope that it inspires people to care for and protect trees, to spend time in their calming presence, and to be like forests in their communities, caring for each other and supporting those who are most vulnerable.

Maria, thank you so much!

Maria will randomly pick one (US residents only) winner from the comments below to send a copy of Be a Tree to!

AAAANNNNNDDDDD— I’m announcing my three giveaway winners for my latest picture book, Always by My Side. And they are, Kathy Cannon Wiechman, Rebecca Gardyn Levington, and Debbie Thiel. Please email me with your address and any specific signing info.

Jennifer Black Reinhardt

Jennifer is the illustrator and author of several acclaimed picture books. Most recently is Always by My Side, 'A Stuffie Story', which she wrote and illustrated. She also is both the author and illustrator of Playing Possum, and Blue Ethel. Jennifer illustrated Gondra’s Treasure, written by Newbery award winner Linda Sue Park. As well as, Sometimes You Fly, by Newbery medalist, Katherine Applegate. She illustrated Yaks Yak, Animal Word Pairs by Linda Sue Park, The Inventor's Secret, What Thomas Edison Told Henry Ford, by Suzanne Slade, Rabbi Benjamin's Buttons, by Alice B. McGinty, and The Adventures of a South Pole Pig, by Chris Kurtz.


  1. What a beautiful idea for a book. I agree with Jennifer from what we are able to see of the book so far- it’s the “perfect marriage” of story and illustration. Can’t wait to see more!

  2. What a gorgeous book and such a powerful thought. Thank you.

  3. Thanks so much for featuring Be a Tree! here, Jennifer :)!!

  4. I loved the concept of the “wood wide web”! Can’t wait to read this book!

  5. Maria your new book looks amazing. I’m looking forward to reading it.

  6. This is perfect for Earth Day!

  7. OMG, I love trees! This looks fun and so educational. Everyone needs to know how important trees are. Thanks for writing this book and congrats!

  8. Danielle Hammelef

    I love the idea of this book and can’t wait to read it and study the illustrations, which are beautiful. I am a fan of Maria’s books and trees have always been an important part of my life. I enjoy evergreens most because they help brighten the bleakness of winter. Blue spruce is my favorite variety because of the gorgeous needle color.

  9. This book looks great, think my twins would love it!

  10. I love the illustrations-gorgeous!

  11. So happy for you on this newest book. Must have been a labor of passion as the words flowed easily. Kids will love it too. Best of luck and thank you for sharing AND the opportunity!

  12. I can’t wait to read the whole book! So glad this book is out in the world, hopefully inspiring the next generation of conservationists. Trees need us!

  13. Oh I can’t wait to read this one! Thank you for sharing!

  14. Cynthia Wyszynski

    This looks like an absolutely charming book. My favorite tree is the Cottonwood. 🙂

  15. Such a gorgeous book! You had me at the cover!

  16. Aren’t trees amazing? They give us so much. This looks like a beautiful book.

  17. Fabulous post! You got me with “wood wide web.”

  18. The entire book is gorgeous but the double gatefold spread really took my breath away!

  19. What a beautiful idea for a picture book! The science topic is fascinating and the illustrations are lovely.

  20. The magic of nature always moves me, and this book sounds beautifully nuanced and so timely. Can’t wait to read this and spend time enjoying every page. Thanks so much for posting the interview!

  21. That tattoo and carving–wow! And I love the tree/human comparisons you shared. Can’t wait to read this one!

  22. Great interview! I can’t wait to hold this book–to read the text and enjoy all the illustrations–the cover is a stunner! Congrats!!

  23. Maria and Jennifer, thank you for this wonderful interview. I love both the concept and execution–what a beautiful book. Congratulations! And mycorrhizae!!! Some of my favorite fungi 🙂 I’ll be asking for this at my library too.

  24. This book sounds wonderful. I can’t wait to read it.

  25. I love this book and the concept behind it. thanks for featuring it, Jennifer!

  26. Stephen Briseño

    This sounds beautiful and the artwork is stunning! Thanks for sharing about it!

  27. I love your statements on equity and resources shared builds healthy and happy communities. We can learn so much from our relationship with nature. Thanks for the inspiring interview and book.

  28. Love this book and love tress. We’ve planted over 1000 trees on our property. This book looks amazing!

  29. I just got this book from my library reserves. As a fellow tree lover, it is as beautiful as I’d hoped. Congratulations!

  30. Glad your library ordered it & that you enjoyed it, Elizabeth 🙂

  31. Wow. This looks like a beautiful book. I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy. Thanks for the post.

  32. If your library doesn’t have a copy, you can try their suggest a title program. I hope you’ll enjoy it, Rosi!

  33. I am lover of trees and Maria’s books too! I love the way this blog introduces me to so many wonderful new books!

  34. Beautiful book! I like the analogy of a family of trees!

  35. I’m such a tree lover; I ADORE this book–the lovely language and the stunning art. Congrats to both of you on a stellar book!

  36. Jennifer Dieleman

    Maria’s books never disappoint and “Be A Tree” looks like another winner! What a perfect story for Earth Day.

  37. Hi Jennifer!! I hope that you’ll enjoy it!

  38. Sharing the importance of trees with young readers is essential in today’s world. Thank you for writing this book.!

  39. Oh this is wonderful. I love trees and forests the way some people love the beach or lake. Congratulations and I can’t wait to learn more about trees!

  40. I’d love to read this story to the kids in my classroom. I know how much they would enjoy it.

    • There are many opportunities to win a copy–more coming this week, + a big book giveaway on Earth Day for educators, Carol. Stay tuned! You can follow me on Instagram (pennyandjelly) and Facebook (my name) for the details. Good luck!

  41. This sounds WONDERFUL! Thank you for sharing this book and the story behind it. Can’t wait to read it!

  42. I love what scientists are learning about trees and how all of nature is interconnected. I also love how children’s writers are making that known to the youngest of audiences. Congrats, Maria & Felicita! Thanks for hosting, Jennifer!

  43. This book looks gorgeous, Maria! And fascinating. Congratulations! And thanks for the great interview, Jennifer! 🙂

  44. Thanks, Linda!! The art is AMAZING!! I hope you’ll enjoy it!

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