It's not as if you can wave a wand and have it happen magically. It takes time. It takes patience and persistence. Your associates in this endeavor are unpredictable but you need them. You must have sun, water, wind and the lives of countless animals, tiny and large, for the fruits of your labors and others to be seen.
One man, a single soul, with intention and a goal, changed the landscape of his environment, seed by seed, plant by plant. The Boy Who Grew A Forest: The True Story of Jadav Payeng (Sleeping Bear Press, March 15, 2019) written by Sophia Gholz with illustrations by Kayla Harren portrays the efforts of this man over decades. One person can make a difference. This person made a difference.
on a large river island,
among farms and families hard at work,
there lived a boy who loved trees.
At an early age he recognized their value. He was worried, though. During the rainy season each year, more and more of his river island was eroding away. One particular year he was devastated by the loss of animal life on a land becoming more and more barren.
He consulted with the village elders. He heeded their advice to create homes for the animals. He started to plant; twenty bamboo saplings were given to him. Every day, alone, he tended those saplings, hauling water and designing a watering system. The saplings became a thicket. He worked harder bringing in other flora, insect and worm workers and cow dung.
As the boy came a young man, a forest grew. It covered forty acres! Wild animals not see there in a long time returned. There were
buffalo, one-horned rhinos, and snakes, gibbons, migratory birds, and elephants.
People were not thrilled when the tigers arrived, but the man planted plenty of grass to keep smaller animals there to provide food for the tigers. For every complaint, the man found a solution. If trees were taken for wood, he planted more trees. He protected the animals from poachers. He, Jadav Payeng, altered an entire vista and enhanced the lives of countless humans and animals.
Author Sophia Gholz bookends her nonfiction narrative with quotations. The first is by an unknown author making reference to the planting of trees. The second is by Jadav Payeng. It reveals the guiding passion he continues to hold in his heart.
"Only by growing plants,
the Earth will survive."
As each portion of this man's life is disclosed to us through the writing of Sophia Gholz, we find ourselves attached to this boy watching with wonder as the saplings and he grow and mature together. The details of his determination, the daily canoe trips, the hauling of water, natural fertilizer, insects and worms and his diversifying the plant life, are truly marvelous. One technique employed by Sophia Gholz which adds anticipation and depth to the story is not naming the boy and man until the very end. It's more powerful. Here is a passage.
The boy witnessed animals stranded on those sandbars,
their homes destroyed.
He feared that if animals withered without trees,
people would too.
When looking at the lush scene framing the text on the front of the matching dust jacket and book case, rendered by artist Kayla Harren, we are intrigued as to how a boy could grow this featured forest. The light behind the text spreads to the surrounding elements creating a moment of captured animation. We hold our collective breaths believing when we exhale, everything will come to life.
To the left, on the back, on a dark green canvas, a square image, from the interior of the book, is placed. It shows the boy carrying the bamboo saplings. Above his head clouds form a possible forest. This is a beautiful illustration. The opening and closing endpapers are a crisp white.
Each image, whether on a single page, two pages or a single page framed in white, is replete with details. We readers get a very real sense of the county through the chosen color palette. We see the changes in the boy's and man's facial expressions and body positions, giving us a greater appreciation for his work. Kayla Harren changes the perspectives in her pictures precisely to complement the pacing and the story.
One of my many favorite illustrations spans two pages. It is either early morning or at the close of the day as dictated by the lighting on the left of the scene. Shadowy figures in a boat in the lower, left-hand corner are hunters with a bow and arrows and a spear. Standing before them on the river bank, with no weapon but his outstretched hands, is Jadav. Behind him a mature forest spreads. It is filled with wildlife. Gibbons, rhinos, deer, elephants, a tiger, a buffalo and a rabbit all silently watch.
No reader will fail to appreciate the work of this man after reading The Boy Who Grew A Forest: The True Story of Jadav Payeng written by Sophia Gholz with illustrations by Kayla Harren. If one man can do this, think what all of us working together can accomplish. This just isn't a book for Arbor Day or Earth Day or a unit on plants, trees or biographies, this is a book for now. I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal collections.
To discover more about Sophia Gholz and Kayla Harren and their other work, please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names. Sophia Gholz maintains accounts on Instagram and Twitter. Kayla Harren has an account on Instagram. At the publisher's website you can read an excerpt. Here is an educator's guide. The cover reveal is at Celebrate Picture Books. Both Sophia and Kayla are interviewed. Sophia is showcased at 12 x 12 12 Picture Books, 12 Months. For further information you will enjoy this segment about Jadav Payeng on NPR Morning Edition.
Be sure to read about the other titles selected this week by those participants in the 2019 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge at Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher.