Monday, September 17, 2012

Redwoods by Jason Chin: Blending Non-fiction and Fiction through Words and Illustrations

When on vacation last week in the San Francisco Bay Area, we ventured to Muir Woods in Marin County.  It happens to be one of my most favorite places, not only because of the majestic beauty of the trees but the amazing scent.  I wish I could buy a bottle of that scent to fill my Brooklyn apartment with.  It can't even be described.

So, with a hope and a prayer of finding such a bottle of scented heaven, I wandered into the Gift Shop.  I didn't find a way to bring home the aroma, but what I did find was quite a treat.

Sitting on the shelf with other books was a picture book called "Redwoods" by a fellow Brooklynite, Jason Chin.  I opened it up and immediately fell in love.

What struck me is that this book is non-fiction, yet totally fiction at the same time.  The words tell a very dry, fact-filled non-fiction account of the trees.  Yet, the illustrations take the reader on the most magnificent journey.

A small boy finds a book about redwood trees on the platform of the NYC Subway.  He picks it up, hops on the F Train and starts reading.  With each page turn he literally becomes more and more involved with the words until he exits the station and finds himself in a redwood forest. 

Taken alone, the words are very textbook.  But adding the illustrations makes this non-fiction book sing! 

I have never attempted a non-fiction picture book, however, I urge anyone who has or might someday want to, to take a look at "Redwoods" by Jason Chin.

“The story in the illustrations shows in lovely metaphor how a tiny seed of information can take root in a fertile mind and grow into a strong, fire- and disease-resistant, redwood-sized understanding.” —Los Angeles Times

“Chin’s watercolor illustrations capture both the majesty of the redwoods and the young boy’s inquisitive personality, and while the idea of a storybook so vivid that it comes to life is not new, what sets this one apart is that Chin has paired his fantastical visual narrative with a straightforward nonfiction text.” —Starred,Horn Book

“The straightforward narrative is given enormous energy by the inventive format and realistic watercolor illustrations—their soft edges and muted hues suit the mist-shrouded giants. Chin adeptly captures the singular and spectacular nature of redwoods in this smartly layered book.”—Starred, Publishers Weekly


  1. Now this is interesting!! I'll have to read that book. I have never written non-fiction, but I have had an idea brewing for a while and this would be an interesting format to study!

  2. Marcie as you know I recently visited the Central Coast of CA and fell in love! I, too, would love to bottle the smells and sounds of Big Sur and Yosemite. On the topic of non fiction...I'm quite an American history buff bordering on being, well...GEEKY. "Redwoods" is a strong motivator to apply some of that history geekiness into a PB:)

  3. Thanks for reviewing it. Recently I went ziplining in the Redwoods nearby and fell in love with the information I learned about these magnificent trees. I even had an idea for a magazine piece on it. Will have to read this book asap.


  4. Thanks for sharing this amazing story book. I am busy writing a non fiction picture book and will have to read this as well. Sounds like the pictures took it from dull to inviting. Very interesting. :)

  5. Great post and review Marcie, now let's see if I can find it!

  6. Thanks for sharing REDWOODS, Marcie. Your review has peaked my interest in both the book and giving more serious thought to a trip to see the Redwoods.
    Jason does a fabulous job with the watercolors.

  7. This book and idea for non-fiction sounds wonderful. Thanks for sharing a piece of your vacation. Too bad you couldn't find that scent though.:)

  8. I'm really interested in expanding into "fictionalized" non-fiction so this is right up my alley! Thanks for letting us know about this book...

    Donna L Martin

  9. Great post, as ever, Marcie. And very timely for me, as I'm on revision 5 (or is that 15?) of a PB historical fiction. Will definitely have to check out Redwoods to see how Jason Chin blended the genres.

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