Next up in my interviews with fellow STEAM TEAMERS (a group of kidlit authors and illustrators bonding over STEAM titles we have releasing this year) is Leslie Barnard Booth, who beautifully chronicled the life of a little found rock in A STONE IS A STORY, and now tackles the life cycle of a tree. I caught up with Leslie to learn more:

Me: Congratulations on your stunning new book, ONE DAY THIS TREE WILL FALL (Margaret K. McElderry Books, March 2024). As a tree and nature lover, I really appreciate how you present a holistic look at how trees fit into ecosystems at all stages of their lives and even beyond. What inspired you to write this book?

 

Leslie: Thank you, Jonathan! I’m so glad those themes resonated with you! Yes, a tree’s life (and death) can’t be separated from the forest ecosystem! And a tree is itself a whole ecosystem! The seed of this story came from a few places. At the preschool my children attended and where I worked for a time, a group of kids were doing this amazing study of a rotting stump. They were dissecting it and learning about all the little critters that lived inside it. At the same time, I was reading Peter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees. This book made me think of trees differently—as responsive organisms with dramatic life histories. The incredible drama of a tree’s life is often hidden from us because it occurs on a timescale too long for us to observe and appreciate. But in a book, we have all the time we want! We can spend 1,000 years watching a single tree! So, I knew I wanted this book to cover a tree’s whole life, and to be dramatic—to show the tree’s active struggle to live. I decided I wanted the reader to care about the tree, to love the tree, to identify with it, so that the idea of the tree eventually falling and dying is sad. But then, I wanted to prove to the reader that trees live on, even after they die. Which is true! A dead tree, as those preschoolers discovered, is absolutely chock full of life. So, knowing that’s what I wanted to accomplish, it occurred to me to set up the story of the tree almost like a cradle to grave biography, but one where the concept of “grave” is upended. Because, in the context of a forest ecosystem, a tree’s story has no end.

Me: I have favorite trees I like to observe (and say hi to). Do you have any favorite trees?

Leslie: I love that you asked this question (and I want to meet your favorite trees!). I most certainly do have a favorite tree. I walk past this tree on my everyday neighborhood walk. It’s an old, gnarled maple with great big strong twisted arms and a hollowed-out heart. If you look in that hollow (as I do each day in greeting 😊) you’ll see that it’s full of beautiful bracket fungi! And word to the wise: sometimes when you peek in, you may also encounter a surprised squirrel!

 

Me: The illustrations by Stephanie Fizer Coleman really bring life to the tree and its setting. How did you two get paired? Is there anything you can share about her process or your collaboration?

Leslie: Yes, isn’t Stephanie’s work amazing! The publisher paired us, and I am so grateful for it! It’s been wonderful to see how Stephanie took this text and deepened it by showing the tree from different perspectives. I also love her portrayal of the wildlife in this book. She does a phenomenal job bringing animals to life—showing the bounce of a squirrel on a branch, the cuddling of owls, the connection between a woodpecker and her chicks.

Me: How did you get into writing for kids?

Leslie: I’ve always been a huge admirer of picture books, but I transitioned into writing for kids when I had young kids of my own. At home, I was completely immersed in picture books! I read them day in and day out—and sometimes in the middle of the night! So, I set aside the novel I’d been working on for years and got serious about learning how to write picture books. I attended SCBWI events and started submitting work to children’s magazines. That’s how it all began!

 

Me: Can you share what you’re working on next?

Leslie: My next book, I AM WE: A STORY OF SURVIVAL, releases with Chronicle in fall 2025, and it’s all about crows! During lockdown my children and I started paying more attention to our neighborhood crows. We began to really enjoy their daily rhythms. We noticed that huge flight lines of crows would stream west over our area at about the same time each evening. This spurred my interest in crows’ roosting behavior. I learned that in winter crows gather together by the thousands to sleep. After lockdown I was in downtown Portland one night, and I finally got to see for myself where they were all gathering. It was an unbelievable, heart-thundering spectacle of thousands of chattering birds. I AM WE explores this phenomenon!

Me: Can’t wait to see it! I love to watch the huge gathering of crows that flies here across Rockville, Maryland each day, often over our house. Cool concept! Wishing all your books much success!

To learn more, please visit: Leslie Barnard Booth | Children’s Book Author | STEM | Portland, Oregon

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)