Rise to the Sky: An Interview with Author Rebecca E. Hirsch and Illustrator Mia Posada

Trees are the tallest living things on Earth. But how do they grow to be so tall? Science writer Rebecca E. Hirsch presents a poetic introduction to the tree life cycle in Rise to the Sky: How the World’s Tallest Trees Grow Up. Accompanied by Mia Posada’s detailed collage illustrations, this book features the tallest tree species from around the world, including the coast redwood, the Sitka spruce, and the giant sequoia.

Today Rebecca and Mia join us to talk about how they wrote and illustrated this masterful picture book. Read on to discover their hopes for young readers and download the free activity guide!

Rise to the Sky cover

Where did you find your inspiration for writing the book and for the illustrations in Rise to the Sky?

Rebecca E. Hirsch (RH): I was inspired by a scientific study in Nature showing the upper limit of tree height is about 425 feet. The limiting factor, it turns out, is water. It’s pretty tough to move water long distances through the xylem—the tiny tubes that carry water from the roots to the leaves. Beyond that height, water simply can’t reach the top of the tree.

I had been thinking for a long time about writing a picture book on trees, but I hadn’t found an angle that interested me. After I read this study, I started thinking more about the question of how trees do it—how do they grow to become so tall? That gave me my angle for the book.

Mia Posada (MP): I used to live in Northern California and loved going to Muir Woods and other parks to hike in the huge redwood groves. They are so amazing to see! So I used those memories to try to portray the feelings of those places in crafting some of the illustrations.

What did you enjoy most about writing and illustrating this book?

RH: Any day that I get to spend researching or writing about plants is a good day! I never tire of learning about plants, and I love getting to share my enthusiasm with young readers.

There was a moment, later in the process, when I first saw Mia Posada’s stunning collage artwork, that was also wonderful. By that time, the idea had been living in my head for years, and then suddenly there was Mia’s artwork alongside my words, and the story came to life. It was magical.

MP: I loved to learn about these trees. I had seen some of the tall trees of California but hadn’t known about the others around the world. I also enjoyed combining different types of paper to create the textures of the trees.

Spread from Rise to the Sky in which seedlings grow.

What was challenging about writing and illustrating this book?

RH: A big challenge was finding my initial focus to the story. I had kicked around the idea of doing a nonfiction picture book about trees for many years before I finally settled on the issue of height. Then, with height in mind, I did a bunch of research about coast redwoods, the tallest species, but also giant Sequoias, which are both tall and massive. Ultimately, I decided not to focus on just one species. Instead, I decided to zoom out a little and include a group of extraordinarily tall trees that grow around the world. In hindsight, it seems like an obvious way to focus the book, but it took me a long time to get there.

MP: I would say it was a little tricky to decide how to illustrate the pine needles from different distances and perspectives on the trees, such as how detailed they should be.

What surprised you about this book?

RH: I was surprised that the tallest trees used to be even taller! A few hundred years ago, some trees may have stood over 400 feet tall, which would put them close to the upper limit of height. But sadly, people cut those trees down, so now all we have are stories of those long-lost giants. Today the tallest tree, a coast redwood, stands at about 380 feet.

MP: I was surprised to learn that trees can be taller than the Statue of Liberty! I also hadn’t realized how small are some of the seeds that develop into such giants.

What do you hope readers with take away from this book?

RH: I would love for readers to look at trees, all trees, in a new way and to understand that trees can do this astonishing thing – they can grow tall, sometimes extremely tall—building themselves using only water and air as raw materials, and powered only by sunshine. That’s mind-blowing!

MP: I hope they will enjoy learning about our amazing natural world!

Free Educator Resource

Download the free activity guide for Rise to the Sky and immerse readers in STEM learning! This guide can be downloaded below or from the Lerner website.

Praise for Rise to the Sky

★”Varied composition and realistic textures heighten the appeal of Posada’s attractive illustrations. Created with cut-paper collage and watercolor, they capture the trees’ soaring height and dignity . . . Written with clarity and illustrated to help viewers understand the ideas discussed, this handsome book offers an appealing, informative introduction to trees.” — starred, Booklist

★”A well-focused, beautiful, and informative introduction to the arboreal world.” — starred, Kirkus Reviews

★”Hirsch teaches basic plant biology through the example of the world’s “tallest living thing”—trees—in this awe-inspiring text. . . . Washed in earthy browns and vivid emerald greens, Posada’s expertly rendered cut paper collage provide texture that feels touchable.”

– starred, Publishers Weekly

Rise to the Sky will appeal to budding arborists and nature lovers alike. Perfect to accompany units on life cycles and plants, or to prepare for a trip to see redwoods.” – Growing with Science

Authors and illustrators join the Lerner blog every month! Read more posts here.

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