Monday, May 24, 2010

Barrie’s Blue Bottle, a Beneficial Book

(Written for Root Issues in the Barrie Examiner, published under the title "Barrie teacher's book proof of Living Green ")

Just about everyone has thought, at some point, “I could write a book about this”. Many dream of someday becoming a published author, and for some reason, children’s books hold a special allure.

Yet very few of us chase this dream and actually set pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard. Our wit and wisdom remain unimparted.

But a friend of mine has broken the rule – she has actually begun writing, illustrating and publishing original primary-level children’s books. She is Barrie resident and retired teacher Gwen Petreman. I know her as a long-time colleague on the board of Barrie’s respected environmental charity, Living Green.

One of her driving concerns is the lack of trees around us. To be healthy, a community needs at least 30% tree canopy. Barrie (pre-annex) has about 25%, so we aren’t too bad, but still need to improve. Our many retail centres and new subdivisions are particularly under-treed. Gwen is spearheading a number of local initiatives aimed at fixing this by planting seedlings and mature native trees.

Her first book, The Blue Bottle, combines many of her passions – ecology, nature, education, and especially trees. The book features a monstrous genie, unwittingly released from an old bottle, who threatens to destroy all of the finder’s treasured trees, then uproot the Amazon rainforest. Does it succeed? Well, I don’t want to spoil the ending. But the book also includes an informative appendix about Amazon wildlife and beneficial trees from around the world.

Although Gwen feels the book is best appreciated by boys, my own two daughters, aged 5 and 3, are big fans. They love monsters, and stories that are (not too) scary.

As a teacher, she carefully designed her book to be ideal for classroom education. What’s more, she is happy to present it at schools, as a fundraiser for planting trees nearby. (The cost is very low, and she even has an early-bird discount for schools booking before Thanksgiving). The book can be used for teaching literacy, the science of trees and the Amazon, and the process of writing and illustrating your own book.

Gwen will be an active participant in Barrie’s first Eco-Fest this June 12th. At the Transition Barrie Oasis tent, she will be hosting multiple activities centered around the book and tree-planting. For parents there will be discount copies of The Blue Bottle, a silent auction of decorative plants and herb gardens, and white spruce seedlings to plant at home. The kids will enjoy a monster-drawing contest and making woodland critters from stones. And between now and Eco-Fest, Gwen is hoping to collect your old cell phones to recycle. Call her at 722-5377 to arrange pickup.

Since she is the author, I’ll let Gwen have the final words.

“I wrote the book to get the message across to young people about the critical role trees play in creating a balanced and healthy environment where people and animals can thrive. Hopefully, as parent and child read this book together, the parents will be inspired to plant as many trees as possible on their property,” Mrs. Petreman says. “What fascinates me most about the many benefits of trees is that the planting of mature trees is the cheapest, safest, and most beautiful method of mitigating (preventing) climate change,” she adds.

To book a school visit or find other information, visit

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is an educator, father, volunteer, and politician.

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