Cherry initially had trouble finding a publisher for the book, as it was deemed "too controversial". However, she refused to alter the basic message.When the book was released in 1990, coinciding with the twentieth anniversay of Earth Day, Cherry told a reporter, "When kids grow up, in another 20 years, they'll be the people making the decisions. If they're raised with these ideas ingrained in them, it will affect national policy. We will have raised a whole generation of environmentalists."
The Great Kapok Tree has since received a Charlotte Award from the New York State Reading Association. It has also been named an NSTA-CBC Outstanding Science Trade Book for Children, an American Bookseller's Association "Pick of the Lists", and an International Reading Association Teacher's Choice.
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