the great unexpected October 26


Top Ten Children’s and Young Adult Books About Trees, Woods, or Forests by Holly Mueller

I participated this year for the first time in the March Slice of Life Story Challenge, started by Two Writing Teachers.  It was an amazing experience.  I personalized the challenge by writing about childhood memories because my fifth graders were writing memoirs.  In one memory, I wrote about my love of trees and playing in the woods when I was young.  I connected the memory to several books that featured trees, woods, or forests.  An idea for a Nerdy Book Club post was born!  Trees often symbolize life, knowledge, or spirituality.  Forests in fairy tales are usually dark, magical, mysterious places where journeys and quests take place in order to show transformations.  Trees in stories (and real life) are rarely just trees.  They take on meanings of all kinds.  Here are my top ten children’s and young adult books with trees, woods, or forests as a central element.


Ida B

Ida B…and Her Plans to Maximize Fun, Avoid Disaster, and (Possibly) Save the World by Katherine Hannigan


Home-schooled Ida B. talks to trees and the brook, and is full of spunk and goodness.  When a tragic turn of events forces her to go to school instead of being home-schooled, she is devastated.  The tragic turn is foretold by Ida B.’s beloved trees.  What follows is a journey of the heart.

bridge to terabithia

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson


This is one of my favorite children’s books of all time.  Jess and Leslie create Terabithia, a magical kingdom in the woods.  Leslie teaches Jess about courage, friendship, and individuality.  I think it has one of the best endings in children’s literature.


Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu


Hazel and Jack were best friends until something mysterious lands in Jack’s eye, and he becomes cruel.  Jack disappears into the woods, and Hazel follows, determined to find out what happened to her faithful friend.  Based on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” Jack and Hazel’s journey into the forest is richly described.  Trees show up in Ursu’s newest book, The Real Boy, also.  Something tells me she must have a heart for trees and transformations.


Harry Potter

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling


The Forbidden Forest was home throughout the Harry Potter series to many magical creatures and chilling scenes.  One of the most haunting scenes was when Harry and Draco happen upon Voldemort feasting on the blood of a unicorn in order to regain his strength.  The Harry Potter series is a classic quest story, complete with parts of his journey taking place in the forest.  One of my favorite quotes from the series is by Dumbledore: “It is a curious thing, Harry, but perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it.  Those who, like you, have leadership thrust upon them, and take up the mantle because they must, and find to their own surprise that they wear it well.”

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis


Lewis’s brilliantly told story has made its way into innumerable readers’ hearts.  I’ve reread it several times, and I find something new each time.  Who can forget the magic created when Lucy steps into the frozen forest for the first time?

a monster ccalls

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness


This young adult novel is devastating and profound.  A Yew tree awakens Conor O’Malley every night and tells stories of life’s difficulties.  Conor is dealing with his mother’s cancer, bullying, and family complications.  I finished with this book on a plane, and it’s tough to suppress full-fledged sobs while surrounded by other passengers.

hunger games

Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins


Need I say more?  You’ve all read it or seen it in the theaters.  I’m not sure I’ll ever get over the Rue scene in that deadly but transformative forest.

the great unexpected

The Great Unexpected by Sharon Creech


Naomi and Lizzie are little orphan girls in Blackbird Tree trying to make sense of their circumstances when a mysterious boy, Finn, drops out of a tree one hot day.  As the story unfolds, we discover surprising connections between the characters, like a “delicate cobweb,” linking them all.  This is a quirky story filled with eccentric characters and magic.

brilliant fall of gianna z

The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. by Kate Messner


I love the metaphors of people and trees, Robert Frost’s “Birches” as a touchstone poem throughout the story, and the complex layers of character and plot in this story. If you’re a teacher, you will think twice about the pressures you put on some kids to meet your stringent expectations when they may be going through many trials and tribulations.


Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater


Grace has always been fascinated by the wolves in the woods out her back door; one in particular.  When “her wolf” shows up as an actual boy, Sam, they have an immediate heated relationship.  Stiefvater is such a smart and excellent writer.


It is difficult to stop there.  I can think of at least ten more, and more if we opened it up to adult fiction. What books about trees, forests, or woods have you loved?  And before you go, what kind of tree would you be?

Holly Mueller is a gifted intervention specialist who teaches accelerated 5th/6th grade ELA at Columbia Intermediate School in Kings Local School District in Ohio.  She loves to read, teach, write, learn, hang out with friends and family, walk her dog, and travel.  Books cover every corner in her house and classroom.  She blogs at Reading, Teaching, Learning and tweets as @muellerholly.  She is a contributor to Choice Literacy.