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Wynona the Redwood Tree

May 8, 2012

This may come as a shock to many of you. But when I was young, the subject I hated the most in school was reading comprehension. Nothing made me cringe like those long boring texts that ended with a series of questions or a book report.  I had such a hard time reading long stories if the subject was not something I was completely engrossed in.

So you can imagine the panic that crept through my body when my fifth grade teacher assigned us to read a long story about a giant redwood tree to be followed by a thorough book report of said tree.

Do any of you remember those elementary school readers? This one in particular had four stories in the book and all of them were made up of chapters. I’m guessing the goal was to get 10-year-olds accustomed to reading long chapter books.

Not being a nature fan – or that of reading comprehension – I was terrified to read this long story about a boring tree. How on earth could 50 pages exist about the life of one tree?! I put off reading the story for as long as I could until one day I broke down to my mom. I was in tears telling her there was no way I could possibly read this story. So to help lessen my fears (and make sure I didn’t fail fifth grade), my mom offered to read the story aloud with me. My mother, a nature lover at heart, was probably thrilled to read about a big tree in the forrest. That coupled with her patience and experience as a kindergarten teacher, she probably felt right in her element with me.

So one afternoon, we sat together on the couch and she read aloud this story of the redwood tree named Wynona. My mom read the story in such a way that made the tree seem like a real person. The way she articulated the words describing the seasons and what was occurring around the tree in the forrest was mesmerizing. I found myself on the edge of my seat dying to know what was happening next to Wynona. When we got to the chapter about a great fire breaking out in the Redwood forrest, my heart pounded as we read each word, waiting to see if the fire would take Wynona.

By the time we finished the story, I was in tears. For this giant redwood lived so many years in the forrest and survived so much change around it. In fact, I couldn’t wait to write the book report because I remembered the entire story, almost word for word.

While I’m sure the author’s words and descriptive text played a part in the beauty of the story, I can’t help but think my mom’s reading of the tale brought it alive for me. She gave what would have been a plane redwood tree in the forrest a personality and a voice. Her inflections brought new dimensions to nature.

Come to think of if it, i have no idea if the tree was even named Wynona. Maybe my mom invented the name to give it a life (she does stuff like that). However she did it, mom ended up turning what I thought was a boring book that I dreaded into one of the most enjoyable reading experiences I had. In fact, I cannot remember any other stories I read during that fifth grade year (or any other year of school).

Thank you, mom, for making Wynona the Redwood Tree come alive for me all those years ago, and for showing me how a simple element of nature can have such a deep and complex life. I have never looked at a redwood tree the same way in the 26 years since reading the story with you.

By the way, if any of you readers know of this story or fifth grade reader, please let me know. I’ve been searching for years to find the story.

36 Comments leave one →
  1. May 8, 2012 3:29 am

    Such a sweet remembrance! And another reminder that just goes to show parents really do help their kiddos love books 🙂

    • May 13, 2012 9:34 pm

      Thanks, Denise. I’m sure I inherited my love of books from her.

  2. May 8, 2012 3:36 am

    And just as this story stayed with you, Sophie will have favorites that she’ll remember you reading her in years to come. btw, did I ever mention to you Bill Harley- singer/folksinger- his stories have stayed with our family- we still quote some of his lines. Bet you’d love them.

    • May 13, 2012 9:34 pm

      Can’t wait to check out Bill Harley. Sounds like someone I would love.

      • May 14, 2012 3:22 am

        I’m curious to see if he’s “held up” over time and if Sophie likes him. Kept us engaged on long car trips for hours- we used to drive from NJ to Maine.

  3. dawn levey permalink
    May 8, 2012 4:39 am

    Wow, I want Karol to read to me now!

    • May 13, 2012 9:35 pm

      I’m sure she’s love to come over and read.

  4. May 8, 2012 7:13 am

    I love this post, Leah. It reminds me of how MUCH I loved story time in grade school. I had completely forgotten how, mesmerized, I would sit under the teacher’s or librarian’s gaze, my head filled with the words coming from her mouth!

    • May 13, 2012 9:35 pm

      Isn’t that the truth? I see it in the kids eyes now when I see Sophie’s teacher read aloud to them. It’s mesmerizing to watch.

  5. May 8, 2012 7:58 am

    I think that’s why I still love Pooh Bear so much even though I have no children. My parents read the books to me over and over again. I haven’t read those books for years, but I can still hear passages in my head. Thanks, Mom & Dad!

  6. May 8, 2012 8:28 am

    I love that you don’t know for sure if the tree was really named Wynona or if your mom made the name up — I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, sounds like your mom must be an amazingly creative person, too! Nice story!

    • May 13, 2012 9:36 pm

      Thanks, Julia. Yes, my mom is the queen of creativity.

  7. May 8, 2012 3:03 pm

    I love this post. I remember having teachers who read long books to the class a little at a time, and everyday I could hardly wait for that hour. There’s nothing better to inspire a child to read than reading to them! (What an awesome mom btw.)

    • May 13, 2012 9:36 pm

      Thanks, Cynthia. It is pretty neat to think she made a story about a boring tree exciting. And yes, I loved reading time too. I hope teachers continue to do it for years to come.

  8. May 8, 2012 5:19 pm

    ah the Magic of Mothers! Lovely post, thank you for taking me back with you 🙂 MJ

  9. May 9, 2012 1:56 am

    great post!!! everything might seem boring or interesting and inspiring, depending on the context, the situation, the person telling the story. If you just think of a joke. Two people might tell the same joke, one would make you laugh out loud and the second would hardly bring a smile to your face

    • May 13, 2012 9:37 pm

      That is so true. Context plays such a huge part in really everything.

  10. May 9, 2012 10:59 am

    This is so precious Leah, your mum not only helped you with reading comprehension, she gave you a memory to last a lifetime. What an amazing gift!

    • May 13, 2012 9:37 pm

      Thanks, Elizabeth. She has inspired me to do that with Sophie. I find myself reading in the same tones she did with me.

  11. May 10, 2012 3:44 pm

    What a wonderful story. It bothers me so much that electronics are encroaching so much on books. I don’t have children, but if I did I would read to them constantly. Your mom gave you much more than just a good story. Lucky you. 🙂

    • May 13, 2012 9:38 pm

      Thanks, Jayne. Like you, I worry about electronics taking over as well. That’s why I always encourage my daughter to read and we read every night together.

  12. May 10, 2012 6:39 pm

    ***sigh*** that was so beautiful! How lovely that your mother read that story to you and set your feet on the path. Thank you for sharing.

    • May 13, 2012 9:38 pm

      Thanks, Ann. She probably did set me on my reading path of today.

  13. May 11, 2012 6:28 pm

    beautiful!

  14. May 12, 2012 11:52 am

    I love this story of how your mom transformed this story for you. She clearly helped make you the wonderful mom you are to your Sophie. Happy mother’s day!

    • May 13, 2012 9:39 pm

      Thanks, Lisa. I’m sure I would not be the mom I am if not for her.

  15. May 13, 2012 11:15 am

    I love this post! A great way to honor your mother today. They give us so much, and like us, hope one day our kids will remember.

    • May 13, 2012 9:39 pm

      Thanks, Leah. It will be interesting to see what our kids remember of stories in the future.

  16. May 14, 2012 1:44 pm

    Leah, whether the tree was really named Wynona matters not. What’s really important is what an impact your mother’s reading of this book had on you! How utterly wonderful that you still remember it! You’re absolutely right–the way a person reads a story can turn a regular story into something magical that the child will remember forever, like in your case! 🙂

  17. May 14, 2012 7:21 pm

    I enjoyed reading your post. Well-written.

  18. Wynona permalink
    March 28, 2014 10:05 am

    Leah,

    My name is Wynona and when I was young I was fascinated by learning all I could about anyone or anything named Wynona. It was the 50s and there were no famous people named Wynona (or Winona or Wynonna), and no one I knew had that name. One day I read an article and saw a photo of a giant redwood tree named Wynona. The photo showed that the tree had a hole at it’s base and there was a car driving through it. That image is burned into my brain. I found your post because I was looking for information about the tree as an aging adult. Just thought you might like to know that the tree is real and is (or at least was) named Wynona.

  19. Wynona permalink
    March 28, 2014 10:09 am

    Hi Leah,

    My name is Wynona and when I was young I was fascinated by learning all I could about anyone or anything named Wynona. It was the 50s and there were no famous people named Wynona (or Winona or Wynonna), and no one I knew had that name. One day I read an article and saw a photo of a giant redwood tree named Wynona. The photo showed that the tree had a hole at it’s base and there was a car driving through it. That image is burned into my brain. I found your post because I was looking for information about the tree as an aging adult. Just thought you might like to know that the tree is real and is (or at least was) named Wynona.

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