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Rocker and tree farmer Chuck Leavell pens educational children's book

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Though Rolling Stone rocker Chuck Leavell may play to packed stadiums, his heart belongs to a slower pace of life.

When he's not hammering out classic tunes on the keyboard for the Stones' "Bigger Bang" tour, he's home in Twiggs County, cultivating trees.

Charlane Plantation, which he maintains with his wife, Rose Lane, has garnered them both awards such as the Outstanding Citizen Steward honor from Interior Secretary Gale Norton.

Leavell is also an author, penning the autobiography "Between a Rock and a Home Place" and the book "Forever Green: The History and Hope of the American Forest." The latter underscores his activism on behalf of family tree farms.

"My aim is to keep family forests working," Leavell said. "There are a lot of pressures on us now. We lose about 1 million acres a year to growth and development."

More recently he turned his attention to children's literature, penning "The Tree Farmer" with Nicholas Cravotta and illustrations by Rebecca Bleau. The book will be released the first week of December and is available for preorder on major bookseller Web sites.

"I guess the concept came to me a couple of years ago, after I wrote ('Forever Green')," Leavell said in a phone interview from a Las Vegas tour stop. "I began to realize the need to educate children and plant the seed about the importance of the forests."

The story, as the title suggests, regards a tree farmer who introduces his grandson to his way of life. It's based on Leavell's own experiences and his work with children. Though he does not yet have a grandchild, his daughter Amy is expecting her first child soon.

"We do a lot of educational activities on Charlane Plantation for kids," Leavell said. "There's definitely a connection with children there."

The lush colors and unusual illustration style come from Bleau's technique of painting on silk fabric. The effect is of a vibrant watercolor infused with the linework of old world woodcuts on a textured background.

Some of the most central illustrations include renderings of musical instruments, newspapers and furniture growing within trees. The text is plain yet poetic and would sound musical when read to a small child.

Of course, there's also an underlying environmental message - after all, Leavell partnered with the Abundant Forests Alliance to produce the book - but it's not overbearing.

His inspiration?

"Shel Silverstein's 'The Giving Tree,' " Leavell said. "That was one of my favorite children's books to read to my girls, and it's still one of my favorites."

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Copyright ©2004 The Macon Telegraph. All Rights Reserved.

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