Literary Guide for Natalia Romanova’s “Once There Was a Tree”

Literary Guide for Natalia Romanova’s “Once There Was a Tree”

Download literary guide for Once There Was a Tree.

Natalia Romanova’s Once There Was a Tree tells the story of life after death in nature. Beginning at the end of a great tree’s life, the book spotlights the many visitors and inhabitants who benefit from what the former tree’s stump and roots have to offer. Beginning and ending with human visitors, the chain of use includes bark beetles, ants, and even a bear! Each visitor to the stump gains something substantial from it and begins to feel ownership of it – though each, unbeknownst to them, ends up sharing it with all of the others. In the end, the stump remains and, though many have utilized it as a resource, it continues to offer itself to the world. So who then does it belong to? All of the visitors feel that it is theirs, yet each of them has taken advantage of a different part of the stump. Without realizing it, the people and creatures who feel they own the stump have actually shared it – allowing the stump to truly belong to everyone and, ultimately, to the earth itself. 

In addition to illuminating questions of ownership in nature, the story highlights the beauty of the forest. Illustrator Gennady Spirin’s beautiful images echo the woods’ magic, and intricate borders and mini-illustrations add to the depth and beauty of the book. The rich and diverse plants and creatures included in Spirin’s illustrations help to bring collective ownership in nature to the forefront of readers’ minds. The inclusion of numerous species not mentioned in the story supports readers in recognizing the communal nature of natural resources.

Once There Was a Tree can be used with readers of almost any age as the story’s essential question is once that can be pondered with as much – or as little – depth as readers are capable of. Additionally, the inclusion of many elements of the natural world allows the story to be used as a tool for inspiring close observation of nature with young readers. By utilizing our accompanying literature, families and educators can enhance readers’ exploration of the story. Critical thinking questions, a nature-based mini-lesson, and outlines for extension activities offer support in deepening readers’ thinking, connecting the story to the local landscape, and layering exploration of the natural world with acquisition of literacy and thinking skills.

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