There Was a Tree


A favorite children's song becomes a colorful book filled with African wildlife

Also known as "The Green Grass Grew All Around," this popular song has been recorded by artists from Barney to Captain Kangaroo. Now "the prettiest tree that you ever did see" is a lovely acacia tree, where a baby starling is just about to hatch. Rachel Isadora gives children a fun, easy way to follow along with the cumulative lyrics by using rebus icons for the repeated words, as she did with 12 ...

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A favorite children's song becomes a colorful book filled with African wildlife

Also known as "The Green Grass Grew All Around," this popular song has been recorded by artists from Barney to Captain Kangaroo. Now "the prettiest tree that you ever did see" is a lovely acacia tree, where a baby starling is just about to hatch. Rachel Isadora gives children a fun, easy way to follow along with the cumulative lyrics by using rebus icons for the repeated words, as she did with 12 Days of Christmas. Sheet music is also included, making this irresistible fun!

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Isadora (Bea at Ballet) brings a traditional cumulative folk song (“And the green grass grew all around, all around...”) to the African savannah. In her version, the hole in the ground is discovered by an African mother and her children; the tree is an acacia sapling growing next to a lion and her cub; and the bird is a superb starling, a beautiful creature with a black face and midnight blue wings who hatches a chick from a speckled egg. Her collages are composed of painted and patterned pieces of paper in vivid greens and hot oranges; outlines and facial features are overlaid in woodblock-like black lines. African textile motifs border the pages, and thumbnail images substitute for key words as the verses build up (“Oh, the chick in the egg, and the on the egg, and the in the nest”), turning the song into an absorbing rebus puzzle. It’s also a gentle push toward opening up one’s own storytelling tradition to the rest of the world. Musical notation and a rebus key are included, too. Ages 3–5. (Oct.)
“Bright, clear, colorful. . . . This lively new version of a story hour standard will appeal to young preschoolers as well as to older kids on the cusp of reading.”
The Horn Book
“A fine contribution to illustrated picture books based on children’s songs.”
Library Media Connection
“Collage pictures that pop off the pages using bright colors and interesting textures. . . . . As she has chosen to make this a rebus story, young children will be able to participate in this fun read-aloud.”
Children's Literature - Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
Isadora uses the traditional cumulative song, "...and the green grass grew all around..." as the basis for a visual story set in Africa. It all begins with a hole in the middle of the ground. In this hole in "the prettiest tree that you ever did see," on a branch, in a nest, in an egg, on a chick's wing is, finally, "the prettiest bug that you ever did see." As the story accumulates, Isadora uses rebus icons instead of words. Each new item that will become a rebus is introduced in colored upper-case letters. Each double-page spread is framed in different African patterns. The visuals, composed of oil paints, cut printed and palette paper pieces, suggest plant forms, leafy tree clumps, and a large orange sun. Some also are shaped to resemble animals, birds, butterflies, etc. The multicolored borders enhance the happy sensibility in the double-page scenes, while the end pages take us from day to night. There is a key to the rebus, along with the music and all the verses of the song. Reviewer: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
School Library Journal
PreS-Gr 1—In this illustrated version of a traditional cumulative song, Isadora sets the "hole in the ground and the tree in the hole" in Africa and uses her iconic collage-style illustrations to tell the story of a bug on a wing of a chick in an egg… and green grass growing all around, each page telling one of the verses. The rebus icons that the publisher's notes call "an enjoyable and easy way to follow along" are a clumsily introduced distraction. The music and lyrics on the last page take the lazy way out by providing four numbered verses followed by the dictate to "add a new phrase each time until the final verse," and then provides the last, numbered 9. Isadora's artwork is consistently attractive and includes some animals native to the setting, but they are not emphasized in any way, adding to the generic tone and losing an opportunity to extend and deepen the material. Susan K. Mitchell's Rainforest Grew All Around (Sylvan Dell, 2007) is a better choice.—Lisa Egly Lehmuller, St. Patrick's Catholic School, Charlotte, NC
Kirkus Reviews
The East African savanna forms the backdrop for this appealing version of a familiar American cumulative song. Returning to the African setting and textured collage technique she has used so successfully in adaptations of folk tales, Isadora reworks what has become a traditional children's song. (Credit to the 1912 songwriters and identification of the animals shown appear on the back jacket flap but not in the text.) The superb starling makes a splendid choice for the bird in the nest on the branch on the tree where the green grass grew all around, all around. Its bright blue and orange coloration both stands out and blends into the oranges and greens of this grassland world, which the artist has populated with people and iconic animals including lions, giraffes and elephants. Oil-painted and printed cut papers make up her scenes: The animals, plants and bright sun or concluding night sky are (mostly) set on a white background. Each illustration extends completely across the double-page spread, bordered by a square patchwork that sometimes includes what appear to be woven textiles. In the white spaces, the song grows, with small rebus images appearing after the first use of each word on the page. A key to the rebus appears at the end along with the music and lyrics. A read-aloud, sing-along delight. (Picture book. 3-7)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780399257414
  • Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
  • Publication date: 10/11/2012
  • Pages: 32
  • Sales rank: 730,085
  • Age range: 3 - 5 Years
  • Product dimensions: 10.20 (w) x 10.20 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Rachel Isadora received a Caldecott Honor for Ben's Trumpet. She is the author of Say Hello!, Peekaboo Bedtime, and the Lili at Ballet series, and has written and illustrated several classic tales set in Africa, including The Ugly Duckling, Hansel and Gretel, The Twelve Dancing Princesses and The Princess and the Pea. She lives in New York City.

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