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Arts and Culture

The Children's Bookshelf: Summer of the Tree Army 3-29

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This is the Children’s Bookshelf and I’m Sue Ann Martin

Summer of the Tree Army: A Civilian Conservation Corps Story written by National Book Award winner Gloria Whalen and illustrated by Kirbi Fagan is a well told story from the days of the Great Depression about a federal agency that was designed to put young men who were out of work back to work while at the same time taking care of the forests across the nation---in this case, in northern Michigan.

One day, nine-year old Charlie spots some odd buildings newly erected in the woods near his home. His father tells him they are barracks for young men of the CCC who have come to watch over the woods. Charlie investigates further and sees these men planting trees where other trees have been destroyed by forest fires.

One day Charlie helps one of the men by the name of Luke who had become lost in the woods. Over time they develop a friendship. Charlie even teaches Luke how to put a worm on a hook and actually catch a fish!  When a forest fire ignites the trees very near Charlie’s house, he and his father race to the fire to bring drinking water to the thirsty CCC firefighters.

The illustrations are full of beauty, story and light. In fact, the use of very focused streams of light to direct the viewer to the key aspect of the visual narratives is very effective. Light from the orange fire, for instance, pulls the reader’s attention toward the back of this striking illustration as firefighters, shown in silhouette, hold the fire line in the picture’s foreground.

SUMMER OF THE TREE ARMY: A Civilian Conservation Corps Story written by Gloria Whelan and illustrated by Kirbi Fagan will speak to readers 6-10 years of age (Sleeping Bear Press, 2021).

The Children’s Bookshelf is a production of WCMU. Links to the podcast and the activity questions, ideal for home use, can be found at Children’s Bookshelf dot org.  

Activity Questions for Summer of the Tree Army: A Civilian Conservation Corps Story

Take another glance at the final double spread illustration in this book. What is Charlie, Luke, Charlie’s father and the dog doing? Why? How do you think they feel? How does it make you feel? What would it sound like if you could hear Charlie’s voice as he jumps up and down? Go ahead, try it out and be Charlie’s voice. Have fun!

In the back material the author has gathered interesting facts about the formation of the CCC by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1933. Older readers can go online and find answers to the following questions: approximately how many CCC camps were there in the entire country?

When did it close down and why? What “good works” did it do throughout the country? What agency took its place?

Which illustration is your favorite? Why? Now, give that illustration a title based on why you like it. Go ahead and use your imagination.

Charlie’s dog does not have a name but is in so many of the pictures. Look at the illustrations and find the dog. Give him a name based on what you see.