>THE GREAT KAPOK TREE
Exceptionally colorful, bright and full of life-jaguars, anteaters, boa constrictors, a three-toed sloth, monkeys, tapirs, porcupines, toucans and humans, to name a few of the characters—this ecological fairy tale takes place in what would appear to be an especially verdant section of the Amazon rain forest.
A lumberjack sets out to chop down a venerable kapok tree. He takes a rest and falls sound asleep under the tree, where he is regaled by a parade of animals who explain their personal relationships to the forest and why it would be a nice idea if he would leave it and them alone.
Among the visitors is a tree frog, who tells the man, “Senhor, a ruined rain forest means ruined lives…many ruined lives. You will leave many of us homeless if you chop down this great kapok tree.” A jaguar (who has a look on his face that suggests he might be contemplating a less conversational way of getting rid of the intruder) makes another telling point: “Senhor, the Kapok tree is home to many birds and animals. If you cut it down, where will I find my dinner?”
The sloth adds, “Senhor, how much is beauty worth? Can you live without it? If you destroy the beauty of the rain forest, on what would you feast your eyes?”
Written and illustrated by Lynne Cherry, the book effectively makes specific the larger story of endangered rain forests by taking the problem one creature at a time. And children can draw some consolation from the happy ending, when the lumberjack wakes up, recalls what he has been told as he slept, drops his ax and goes home. Would that it were all this easy. (Gulliver/HBJ, $14.95)