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In A Nutshell

Author of The Dandelion Seed brings another delightful tail of how an acorn grows into a mighty oak tree, helps sustain other life, and eventually dies and continues to give life to others. The images are wonderfully detailed and beautifully colored.

Here, in luminous illustrations, is the life cycle of an oak—and how it supports life even after it is gone. An acorn drops from a great oak and grows. Animals nibble at it, a fire threatens it, but overcoming many challenges it eventually towers high in the forest, observing the changing human scene below. Eventually its energy passes into many other life forms–even the cherry pie enjoyed by the boy in the house below.


  • Parent Council Ltd. Outstanding Selection

  • Virginia State Reading Association Children’s Choice Selection



Book Reviews for In a Nutshell

Early one morning in the fall an acorn fell from a tree to the ground below and there it lay until spring when it sent a pale green shoot up towards the sun. With moisture and food from the soil and light from the sun the shoot grew into a little plant and thence into a little oak tree.

Over the years the sapling had to contend with many creatures and plants wanting to eat it and compete with it. There were bitter winter storms, terrible forest fires, and men with axes, and yet the oak sapling still managed to grow into a fine big tree. Its leaves branches, and acorns gave shelter and nourishment to countless creatures and then, at last there came a time when the tree grew old and its time for life was over. It’s time for giving life to others was, as yet over, however.

This beautifully illustrated picture book with its simple expressive text tells the story of an oak tree with an obvious appreciation for the cycle of life and the beauty of nature. Children will come to appreciate the though the oak tree has gone, its life force lives on in the living things that have taken its place. Truly the cycle of life in nature is a wondrous thing.

— Through The Looking Glass Children’s Book Review (March 2007)

Dear Students and Teachers,

Here we are in the month of April. That means we have shared some really neat books this year already. I hope at least some of them have made a “connection” with you, and that you are looking forward to more wonderful journeys we can take through the reading of good books.

This month’s book is a little different from the books we have read together lately. In A Nutshell was written by Joseph Anthony and it was illustrated by Cris Arbo, who happens to be the author’s wife. I thought that was pretty neat. I hope you will notice both the text and the pictures – they are really rich and they use many vivid details. I hope you can sit and just enjoy the book sometime this month all by yourself. It is one you should definitely take some time to enjoy slowly!

I made several connections to this book. The first one involves the title itself. “In A Nutshell” is a phrase we use to talk about retelling a story or a fact in the shortest way possible. Sometimes we adults try to put things “in a nutshell” for children to understand. Isn’t it funny that many times the things adults put “in a nutshell” might not always be what you children would find “the shortest way possible”! So the title is interesting to me because it is a play on words. It is also used because the book tells us about what actually goes on inside of a nutshell. What a clever title!

This book tells us about the life cycle of a tree. I started thinking about how it is also about the lives of the people who live near the tree. Children are born; they grow up; they begin families of their own; and the “cycle” continues over and over and over – just like the cycle of the life of a tree. We all soon discover that growing up isn’t as easy as it looks, and the hard times we encounter in our lives make us stronger people – just like what happens to the tree. We as people, also try to make things better for the world around us – just like the tree did in our story. What a strong connection to a meaningful story!

I hope you can find many other connections to this beautiful book. I enjoy reading about your thoughts about the book and also be sure to bring them to the office and hang them on the Book of the Month chart. Please keep up the great work. You are all growing into such remarkable writers!

Happy reading and writing,

Mrs. Hollinger

— Lilly B. Clayton Elementary – Book of the Month – Holly Shipman (April 2009)

Dawn finds the most eloquent writers, the best storytellers, the finest illustrators. Books such as In a Nutshell and The Dandelion Seed, by Joseph Anthony and Cris Arbo, mesmerize children with their thrilling account from nature, and their breathtaking illustrations. These books are not sugar-coated. You may find yourself surprised, and impressed, by the discussions that follow reading them with your children.

— Hearthside Books (
Morissa Lou Williams (January 2004)

In a Nutshell is a beautifully illustrated story about the life cycle of an oak tree and the interconnectedness of all living things.

— Mother Rising (September 2008)

In a Nutshell follows the life of an acorn. We see how the acorn bursts open, takes root, and grows into a beautiful oak tree.

Cayden: “I didn’t know acorns did that! Acorns are like seeds. We have little trees that we planted in our yard that I help to water. Will our trees grow big like that tree from the acorn did? That is really big! This is a good book.”

Parent’s comments:
My son was very interested in this book mainly because one of his jobs is to water the young trees in our yard. He loved learning about how a tree grows from an acorn and following its entire life cycle. We enjoyed the colorful and detailed illustrations. In a Nutshell by Joseph Anthony is a wonderful book and we recommend it to any little nature lover!

— Kids Reader Views – Cayden Aures (age 4 1/2) and Mom (June 2009)

For everything there is a season and when there is a “young eye at the center,” there is a sense of wonder about who we are, why we are here, where we come from and go. In a Nutshell is a tale about the life-cycle of an acorn, falling to the ground, bursting open at the right time, pushing out roots and a stem, to become a small sapling, growing day by day, year by year, despite its trials and tribulations; cold and heat and hungry mouths who eat.

Years pass until the acorn becomes a tall and sturdy tree, turning light into life, dropping acorns of its own, until old and tired and “the only way for it to become bigger than it was now, was to die,” and return to the soil. When it was gone, another tree was planted, a cherry tree that ate the soil of the acorn, scattering its seeds and feeding new life, until the life of the little acorn became part of everything.

Illustrated by one of my favorite artists, Cris Arbo, there is a luminosity, a light, about the pictures. As a Christian I see it illustrating the “glory of God,” the Creator.

In a Nutshell, written by Joseph Anthony, may be the first book children hear and see about the cylcle of life that is their own.

— Church Educator (August 2004)

Beautifully illustrated, this is the story of a little acorn and how it grew. Reluctantly it dropped on to the dark forest floor, but flourished as it grew into a mighty oak. The oak prospered for many years, and shed many acorns of its own. But then its time was over and it fell to the ground and added nutrients to the soil. A cherry tree was planted in that very spot where the oak tree had fallen. The cherries from that tree were made into a pie that was eaten by the folks who lived in the house next door. The tiny acorn had lived as a tree, nourished the soil and now had nourished people by providing food.

— Children’s Literature – Kristin Harris

Review & Commentary