When You’re Finished Reading This Book, It Turns Into a Tree

Literacy and sustainability intersect with a children’s text you can plant.
May 31, 2015·
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

Stick it on a shelf, lend it to a friend, or maybe place it in the Little Free Library up the block. That’s what most of us do with a book when we’re finished reading it. But an innovative children’s publisher, Buenos Aires–based Pequeño Editor, is connecting literacy with sustainability in a particularly tangible way.

Its project, Tree Book Tree, adds an extra step to the life cycle of a piece of literature. From the outside, the picture book the company produced for the effort—Mi Papá Estuvo en la Selva (My Dad Was in the Jungle), by Gusti Llimpi and Anne Decis—seems like any other children’s volume. But as you can see in the video above, the book is made from recycled paper and biodegradable ink, and jacaranda tree seeds are hand-sewn into the binding.

After children are finished reading the story, the book can be planted in the ground. The pages and binding will decompose, the seeds will take root, and, with a little love and care, a flowering tree will begin to sprout. “Everything we read is part of our mental library and what we are as people. So reading is rooted in us and transforms us: makes us grow and change,” explain the publishers on the project’s website.

Tree Book Tree could also help kids understand why recycling is an essential part of maintaining the world’s paper supply.

Data from the the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reveals that Americans use 69 million tons of paper and paperboard annually. A good chunk of that goes into publishing more than 2 billion books, 350 million magazines, and 24 billion newspapers every year. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, 42 percent of trees cut down worldwide every year are turned into paper. Although 65 percent of paper used in the U.S. ends up being recycled, given that more than half of the world’s forests may disappear by 2030, teaching kids to conserve resources and repurpose what they have is critical.

Pequeño Editor only produced a limited number of these handcrafted texts, so the volume probably won’t be sold at a store near you. But the concept of Tree Book Tree gets you thinking about recycling your hard- and softcover texts instead of leaving them to collect dust on a shelf.