“I Became a Tree” Children’s Book Written and Illustrated by Siri McGuire

“I Became a Tree” Children’s Book Written and Illustrated by Siri McGuire

The title page of Siri’s children’s book, “I Became a Tree”

“I wanted to write this to unabashedly insist that disabled and chronically ill people are not something to merely be accommodated or “included” in natural spaces – we are natural, we belong, and our ways of connecting to nature are just as important and meaningful.” – Siri McGuire



Each fall and spring, our graduate students participate in a colloquium, sharing and presenting work from the quarter. In this post, current graduate student Siri McGuire shares the project she presented at the fall colloquium, along with what inspired the project, and what she hopes it can do in the world.



Can you tell us about the project you presented at the fall colloquium?


I wrote and illustrated a children’s book called “I Became a Tree,” which uses a nature metaphor to touch upon what it means to go through major changes in one’s mind, body, or way of being in nature.

The first four pages of Siri’s book are below. Click on each image to reveal the full page.

What inspired this project? 


Disability and chronic illness are scarcely talked about and under-represented identity in the sciences. The same is true for environmental education. This is reflected in the way environmental education programs, national parks and trails, and other opportunities in the field are designed – often in ways that construct barriers for people whose minds and bodies fall outside of a desired “norm.”


This can easily give off the impression that disability does not belong in the field – and in a larger sense, that nature is only the realm of the nondisabled. It is almost self-perpetuating, and it harms everybody in the long run. We all experience changes in our bodies and minds over the course of our lifetime that will, at some point, put us outside of the “norm.” Shouldn’t the stories, activities, and experiences we share with our students about how to be in nature reflect that?


The story was influenced by my own experiences with chronic illness and disability, and the process I went through to accept that as part of my identity and as a source of strength and insight. I am very interested in ways we can facilitate experiences and relationships with nature that are designed with the expectation that our bodies and minds will change over time, and that disability and illness are natural processes rather than aberrant occurrences. We rarely talk about what to do when our body or mind changes, and are left to our own devices to navigate that overwhelming process. I wanted to write this book to talk about all of this, while asserting that all bodies and minds belong in nature.


Siri McGuire, author and illustrator of “I Became a Tree”

What was/is your goal for this project and work?


I took this project as an opportunity to explore what a children’s book would look like that embraced this idea – that variation in bodies and minds is a natural (and beneficial) thing – and to use a nature metaphor to illustrate this point. At IslandWood, we often use storybooks with students in our lessons. The stories we tell and the activities and lessons we plan at IslandWood with students greatly reflect our viewpoints about what kinds of bodies and minds are “valuable” and “normal.” Which needs are “normal,” and which get framed as “accommodations,” tell us where our biases are, and what biases get baked into the structure of our programs and lessons and which don’t.


However, combatting systemic and implicit ableist assumptions and practices in environmental education is a large task. I wanted to start with this book that asserts that students (whether disabled or nondisabled) belong no matter what changes their bodies and minds go through in their lifetimes, that they are natural, and that they will always belong in nature. If that is the message, then the hope is that if they encounter barriers to accessing nature that they will not turn against themselves, their bodies, or their minds, but instead seek out, identify, and combat the systems and institutions that normalize some bodies and minds in nature but not others.


More than anything else, I wanted to write this to unabashedly insist that disabled and chronically ill people are not something to merely be accommodated or “included” in natural spaces – we are natural, we belong, and our ways of connecting to nature are just as important and meaningful. Sometimes disability does come with loss and grief and pain –  but in time, it can also come with understanding and acceptance of a new identity and the power of finding others to be in community with.


I’m also hoping that nondisabled people who read it can also start examining their own expectations and assumptions about what kind of bodies and minds they consider “natural,” what process they might go through when their own body and mind inevitably change, and how their viewpoints about those questions now might impact the ways they will or will not be able to connect with nature when they age and/or become disabled.


Ultimately, I would love to add additional pages to expand the story, continue to get feedback and revise it, and (hopefully) find it a publisher.


What did you learn along the way while creating the book?  


Finishing this project required a great deal of vulnerability from me, as it was a way for me to synthesize my own experiences of the past several years of understanding disability identity in relation to nature. Working on this project helped clarify for me where my priorities are in the field. Talking about these subjects can be quite difficult – but I learned that expressing it through an artistic medium gave me life and energy, and is something I want to continue to do in the future.


Anything else you’d like to share?


I’ve shared the first couple pages of the story in this post. If you’d like to see the full story, receive a copy of the story, or discuss it with me, you can fill out this form and I’ll get back to you!



Learn more about IslandWood’s Graduate program in partnership with the University of Washington here.  


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One Comment

  • Brockish, Julie says:

    Hi Siri,

    Your book is beautiful! Your text is carefully crafted and the illustrations draw the reader in immediately. I appreciate your perspective and would love to see the rest of this work.

    Kind regards,

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