Review of ‘The gentle genius of trees’

Dr Sam Lloyd is entirely the correct person to review this book as not only is she a fabulous neighbour (oh the baked goods, chats and gin) but her yard is a wonderful riot of native plants, chooks, hedges of lavender and trees. They are indeed a family of nature lovers and all things Science, so this book was passed through the gate in our back fences with some hast. You can see all Sam’s other reviews by clicking on the tag with her name. Thank you Sam!

Title: The gentle genius of trees
Reviewer: Dr Sam Lloyd
Author / Illustrator: Philip Bunting
Publisher: Scholastic (2021)
Age Range: 3 – 10
Themes: Trees, biology, photosynthesis, interconnectedness, fungi, biodiversity.

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‘The gentle genius of trees’

by Philip Bunting

How can a book by Philip Bunting be anything but funny, informative and filled with bold and engaging illustrations? The gentle genius of trees is all of those things. In following the ecological and philosophical theme of some of his other books (e.g. ‘The wonderful wisdom of ants’ – my review here), The gentle genius of trees takes us on a journey through the role and value of trees – using the resilience and interconnectedness of trees as a metaphor for human strength and community. 

Making science fun

I like how Philip describes the relationship of trees with sunlight, how trees work together to protect themselves and how a tree utilises its environment to its advantage. I especially love the inclusion of the ‘Forgotten Kingdom’ – fungi – and the invaluable role it plays in tree (and generally the entire planet’s) health.

In keeping with this theme, the poor little fungi having to wait until page 13 for some recognition! But it’s worth the wait, with illustrations and text articulating the importance of fungi.

As with so many Philip Bunting books, humour flows through the book. In this book my favourite is how glucose (a product of photosynthesis) is portrayed as fairy floss, along with the self-deprecating disclaimers. My kids think it’s hilarious that all the trees have eyes, and we all love the terrible tree jokes!

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Urban environments vs. uninterrupted tree cover

Whilst the book provides lots of examples of how we, as humans, prosper from trees, it doesn’t go into detail about how trees provide shelter, food and other resources to our animal friends (although this is implied through the illustrations and text). To learn more about the values of trees as homes to fauna, in particular hollow-bearing trees visit my review of Abbie Mitchell’s ‘A Hollow is a Home’.

It’s so easy to take trees for granted. Many of us live in areas where there are lots of trees around us, so we could be forgiven for thinking those trees represent ‘nature’ and adequately support our biodiversity. Whilst urban environments are very important for supporting those creatures that can tolerate, or even thrive in, our disruption (think magpies, possums and bin chickens) many other organisms need uninterrupted tree cover or vegetation to really sustain and survive – and we in turn, need these ecosystems if we are to survive. 

The term ‘death by a thousand cuts’ is often used to describe the gradual loss of important trees in urban and peri-urban landscapes, and so I am always grateful when people take the time to love and conserve their trees.

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Of course, the perfect place to read this book is next to (or sitting in) your favourite tree, park or patch of bush. The gentle genius of trees is essential reading for all the small people (or trees) in your life, and in keeping with his many other entertaining books, it is worthy of a read by everyone – especially those who think they are too old for picture books, or perhaps need a reminder of the gentle genius of trees.

Resources & Further Reading:

Brains On! Plant Podcasts:
As with many of my reviews, I highly recommend subscribing to the Brains On! podcast, dedicated to engaging, informative and hilarious science podcasts for children, Brains On! have several episodes on trees, including:

Dr Samantha Lloyd is an ecologist and environmental manager with a passion for the Australian bush, children’s literature, dance, music and baking.

Having graduated from the University of Wollongong with a Bachelor of Science (Biology), 1st Class Honours in 1998 and a PhD (pollination ecology) in 2006, Sam has worked as an environmental manager for the SEQ regional NRM body; as an entomologist for the Australian and New Zealand Fire Ant Control Programs; and as Coordinator of the Moreton Bay Oil Spill Environmental Restoration Program.

Sam’s long-standing daytime gig is as Manager of the Queensland Fire and Biodiversity Consortium, with bushfire ecology and awareness being another of her passions.

August 16, 2021 at 04:59PM Megan Daley