only the trees know

I’ve attended School Library Journal’s Picture Book Palooza (held over the summer) twice now, and I am a big fan. I can attend during the day because it’s summer, and I find lots of beautiful picture books to share with friends and family for the holidays, and of course the blog! in the intervening months. I always have my eye out for beautiful illustrations, and that is what drew me to Jane Whittingham and Cinyee Chiu’s picture book Only the Trees Know.

only the trees know by jane whittingham, illustrated by cinyee chiu book cover
A little rabbit, who doesn’t like waiting, longs for spring.

Little Rabbit is hungry, bored and very tired of winter. “When will it be spring?” he asks his parents. When they aren’t sure, he turns to his wise grandmother. “Only the trees know,” she says. “Ask them, and they will tell you.” So Little Rabbit does. But the trees don’t answer him. He tries shouting, jumping, listening hard. Still nothing. Then, just when he’s about to give up, he notices something different in the forest, something that’s right underneath his nose …

For every bunny who has a hard time waiting, this is the perfect story to show them how.

The pages of Only the Trees Know are full of a Little Rabbit impatient for spring. He longs for soft grasses and friends (a bird flown south for winter and a squirrel in its den) to come back and play. When the Little Rabbit asks his parents when spring will come, they say “be patient.” Well! That is something neither small children nor Little Rabbits like being told! So Little Rabbit goes to his wise grandmother, and she advises him to ask the trees, because only they know. Thus, Little Rabbit begins an asking campaign. The trees don’t answer the first time, so Little Rabbit tries changing his physical presence, altering his listening skills, and being louder and trying different sounds. In the end, the trees provide their own signs and voice, and Little Rabbit learns to hear them.


Little Rabbit is of course an anthropomorphized figure – the stand-in for the child being read to, who might think the same way and ask the same sorts of questions about winter. It’s charming here, rather than false, and I think that is down to the author’s way with words. The text is poetic, especially on the opening page, and when describing snow and wind: with alliteration, personification, and repetition. Whittingham does not rhyme, but there are several poetic devices throughout. There’s child appeal not just in the art and cadence of the text, but in Little Rabbit’s jumping about, raising and lowering his voice, and trying different listening techniques.


Cinyee Chiu’s art is full of gorgeous brush strokes, and many shades of white and winter. I particularly liked the landscape spreads, with their imprecise snowflakes – they gave the impression of looking through the forest into the scene of the story. Chiu’s medium is gouache and pastel, finished in Photoshop. Chiu makes terrific use of perspective, from treetop height down, and from ground level up to the sky. The only thing about the book design I didn’t love? The title font. And that’s out of sight as soon as you turn a page.


In all, Only the Trees Know is a more active than meditative take on seasonal change, and the perfect book to share with a child impatient for sunny days and playgrounds once more.


Recommended for: fans of Over and Under the Snow, anyone looking for beautifully-illustrated picture books about the seasons, and for nondenominational winter storytimes.


Fine print: I received an advanced digital copy of the text from the publisher at Picture Book Palooza. I did not receive any compensation for this post.

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