Brevity, Shakespeare wrote, is the soul of wit. And it may be the soul of ecology lessons, too. Tree of Birds, a brief and ticklingly funny picture book tells its nature-friendly story with such fresh economy that its lesson is instantly absorbed and long remembered. A little boy,Harry, finds an injured ''green tufted tropical'' bird, names her Sally, and lovingly cares for her until she recovers. The trouble is, of course, that he can't bear to let her go. ''I'm her friend,'' he insists, when his mother tells him it's time to let Sally rejoin the bird world. Then, as fall arrives, Harry begins noticing that one tree, oddly, is getting greener and greener: It's filling up with green tufted tropicals who refuse to leave on their autumn migration without Sally.
Susan Meddaugh's illustrations are jaunty, cartoonlike, and utterly hilarious. The stubborn birds, battered by autumn rain and wind and Harry's ridiculous stratagems to make them leave without Sally are poignant and uproarious at once.
Best of all is the last illustration: Harry finally does the right thing, opening his window for Sally to fly away, and is promptly invaded by the entire happy flock of birds, who clearly intend to stay for the inter. Virtue is rewarded and a good time had by all, especially the reader. A