The Boy Who Grew A Forest by Sophia Gholz

The Boy Who Grew A Forest: The True Story of Jadav Payeng

Sophia Gholz, Author

Kayla Harren, Illustrator

Sleeping Bear Press, Biography, March 2019

Suitable for ages: 5- 8

Themes: Jadav Payeng, Forests, India, Environmentalism, Foresters, Conservation

Opening “In India, on a large river island, among farms and families hard at work, there lived a boy who loved trees. Trees meant shade, food and shelter for many.”

Book Synopsis:

As a boy, Jadav Payeng was saddened as he saw the deforestation and erosion of India’s Brahmaputra River region, the place he called home. He found dead snakes and feared that same thing would happen to the villagers. He shared his fears with the village elders who gave Jada 20 bamboo seedlings. He planted them on a sandbar, devised a watering system and brought rich soil to encourage growth. They trees flourished and became a healthy thicket. Jada wanted to do more, so he began cultivating the land — and planting more trees and plants.  What began as a small thicket of bamboo grew over the years into a 1,330-acre forest filled with native plants and wildlife. His story reminds us all the difference a single person with a big idea can make.

Why I like this book:

This is such a timely book for young people and a perfect Earth Day read. Young Jadav’s decision to try to make a difference in his community will inspire and empower young readers to get involved in conservation projects to protect the environment. The text is sparse and supported by rich, lush and stunning illustrations that move the story forward. Each two-page spread allows readers to pour over the artwork, ask questions and discuss Jadav’s conservation work. Today the entire forest has been named after Jadav “Molai” Payeng–Molai Forest.

Jadav’s story is an excellent read-aloud in classrooms. Jadav models that one child can make a difference. Hopefully it will inspire students to think about what they can do in their own communities to create a healthier environment for everyone.

Favorite quotes: “Only by growing plants, the Earth will survive.” Jadav Payeng

“The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second best time to plant a tree is now.” – proverb

Resources: Make sure you check out the Author’s Note about Jadav’s ideas on reforestation and Plant a Forest of Your Own by growing and planting seeds. Great ideas and directions for home or school. Encourage kids to get involved in projects for Earth Day, April 22.

Sophia Gholz is a children’s book author and lover of trees. She grew up in northern Florida, surrounded by oak trees and longleaf pine forests. But Sophia’s favorite trees are the willows she encountered while visiting Australia as a child. Favorite aside, she believes that all trees are equally important. Today, Sophia lives by the beach with her family, where she spends he time researching, writing, and dreaming about faraway places. The Boy Who Grew a Forest is Sophia’s debut picture book. Visit Sophia at her website.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

Zonia’s Rain Forest by Juana Martinez-Neal

Zonia’s Rain Forest

Juana Martinez-Neal, Author and Illustrator

Candlewick, Fiction, Mar. 30, 2021

Suitable for ages: 4-8

Themes: Amazon rain forest, Indigenous people, Wildlife, Nature, Environmental dangers

Opening: “Zonia lives with those she loves in the rain forest, where it is always green and full of life.”

Synopsis:

Zonia’s home is the Peruvian rain forest. It is her backyard and her front yard, her neighborhood and her playground. Every morning, it calls to her. Every morning, she answers: hello to the sloth family, greetings to the giant anteater, a run with the speedy jaguar…

One morning, the rain forest calls to Zonia in a different voice, a troubled voice. This is the story of that morning.

Why I like this book:

Zonia’s Rain Forest is a visual feast for the eyes and spirit. It carries a beautiful message that nature must be cherished and cared for. It is the perfect opening for discussion with children about the environment and the role the rain forests play in protecting our planet.

Zonia, is an Asháninka girl, who lives in the rain forest and loves to explore its many wonders.  Each morning, this joyful child dances and sings her way through the forest greeting all of her friends and cultivating goodness. Children will love following the Blue Morph butterfly that accompanies Zonia on her journey of transformation.  One morning she discovers that a patch of the forest has become victim to deforestation. It frightens her but she knows she must find a way to protect her home.

Juana Martinez-Neal’s book is a treasure. Her illustrations are exquisite and are created with acrylic colored pencil, pastel, ink and linocuts and woodcuts printed on handmade banana bark paper. The result is breathtaking and an important choice for Zonia’s story. She beautifully captures the lush green rain forest abundant with life. Zonia wears a cheerful yellow tunic, which accents her brown-skin and showcases her happy, sunny nature. Just look at that cover!

Zonia and her people are learning to live in harmony with their surroundings. But the rest of world is impatient and wants to develop the Amazon rain forest. Make sure you read the backmatter about The Asháninka People, with a population more than 73,000, A Few Facts about the Amazon, and Threats to the Amazon. The planet and their way of life is being threatened by greed and it impacts everyone.

Resources:  This is a perfect Earth Day read! Talk about the rain forest with your children or students. Encourage them to draw pictures of their favorite wildlife in the story. Encourage kids to get involved in projects for Earth Day, April 22. There are very simple things that can be done, like planting a tree in a home or school yard.

Juana Martinez-Neal is the Peruvian born daughter and granddaughter of painters. Her debut as an author-illustrator, Alma and How She Got Her Name, was awarded a a Caldecott Honor and was published in Spanish as Alma y cómo obtuvo su nombre. She also illustrated La Princesa and the Pea by Susan Middleton Elya, for which she won a Pura Belpré Illustrator Award, Babymoon by Hayley Barrett, and Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard, which won a Robert E. Sibert Medal. Juana Martinez-Neal lives in Arizona with her family. Visit her online at her website.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

*Review copy provided by Candlewick Press in exchange for a review.

Severn and the Day She Silenced the World by Janet Wilson

United Nations: International Day of the Girl Child, October 11

Severn and the Day She Silenced the World

Janet Wilson, Author

Second Story Press, Nonfiction, Mar. 14, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 9-13

Themes: Severn Cullis-Suzuki, Child Environmental Activist, UN Earth Summit in Rio, Speech

Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Severn Cullis-Suzuki was one of a handful of children given the chance to speak at the closing of the very first Earth Summit in Rio d Janeiro, Brazil, in June of 1992.  It was a day that the media, world leaders and the world took notice. U.S. Vice President Al Gore was famously quoted as saying: “That was the best speech I heard all week!”

Politicians and environmentalists had gathered at the Summit to find solutions to problems such as air pollution and the shrinking rainforests. But for all their talk, they could find little to agree on. It took Severn’s clear, bright voice — challenging the adults of the world to take action — to bring home what was at stake.

As the daughter of environmentalists David Suzuki and Tara Cullis, Severn Suzuki loved that natural world. At age nine, she traveled with her parents to the Amazon and saw the terrible consequences of rainforest destruction on the land and for the indigenous tribes. Back home in Vancouver, she and her  friends were inspired to start the Environmental Children’s Organization (ECO). They raised money to buy water filters to clean the polluted drinking water for children in the rainforest. When they learned about the Earth Summit in Rio, they began a serious fund-raising campaign. They faced obstacles, but they also had a lot of community support. ECO wanted world leaders to hear from children about their concerns for their future — an auspicious goal for three of the ECO members attending.

Why I like this book:

Janet Wilson’s writes empowering and timely books about young people who see injustices around them and take action. Wilson focuses on ordinary children who are making major contributions in their communities and in their world. Severn and her four friends show kids that they don’t have to be adults to make a difference.

Although Severn’s story is nonfiction, it reads like a story. There are photos, the ECO newsletters, newspaper articles, Severn’s diary entries and the recorded seven-minute speech before the Earth Summit. Wilson worked closely with Severn to recreate her time in history.

Severn and her friends are passionate about their work with ECO. They learn how to work as a team  which contributes to ECO’s success. They set goals, choose their projects, develop plans, target key audiences with their message, and raise funds. These girls are committed to telling adults a truth they need to hear — a truth that flows directly from their hearts.

Most important, their work fuels their future environmental interests in high school and shapes their future career paths as activists in many different ways. Severn received the UN Environment Program’s Global 500 Award in Beijing and continued her role as an environmental activist speaking around the world. At Yale University she received her degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and from the University of Victoria in British Columbia she studied Ethnoecology. Her sister, Sarika, became a marine biologist. The other members of ECO also followed similar service paths.

Severn’s riveting seven-minute speech touched the hearts of the world leaders. Her message in 1992 is even more relevant today and continues to receive thousands of hits on YouTube 25 years later.

Resources: This is an excellent classroom book as it humanizes child activism. Make sure you read the Epilogue, Severn Says, Where Are They Now?, Useful Links, and a Glossary at the end of the book. “Today, youth all over the world continue to stand up and speak out for environmental, social, and intergenerational justice. They still want adults to listen and to change their way,” says Janet Wilson. Check out the United Nation’s International Day of the Girl Child website for resources, activities and events.

Janet Wilson is an author and illustrator of many children’s books. Severn and the Day She Silenced the World is part of Wilson’s “Kid’s Power” series. Her first book Shannen and the Dream for a School, won the First Nation Communities Read and was nominated for the Silver Birch Award. Wilson has also written a series picture book series about child activism: Our Earth: How Kids are Saving the Planet; Our Rights: How Kids are Changing the World; and Our Heroes: How Kids are Making a Difference.

Check other Middle Grade review links on author Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post. 

Tony and His Elephants by Cathleen Burnham

Earth Day, April 22, 2017

Tony and His Elephants: Best Friends Forever!

Cathleen Burnham, Author and Photographer

Crickhollow Books, Nonfiction, Apr. 22, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 7-12

Themes: Elephant Rescue, Sanctuary, Thailand, Environmental Conservation, Science, Nature, Kids Making a Difference

Opening: It was Songkran, Thailand’s New Year celebration. Crowds of cheering people waved flags. Songkran also was the hottest time of the year. All across Thailand, people celebrated with water fights. In the midst of the festivities were two little elephants: Baby Pumpuii and five-year-old Nam Cho. They were chained side by side.

Synopsis: Tony is an eight-year-old boy, whose family runs a small elephant sanctuary in northern Thailand. He becomes involved in the care of two young elephants, Baby Pumpuii and Nam Cho, rescued from an urban setting to a new life in the forests. But life in the wilds is not without its own drama and danger. Tony is quickly drawn into a deep and lasting relationship with these amazing and sensitive animals.

Why I like this book:

  • This is the third photodocumentary book by Cathleen Burnham featuring children involved in wild animal rescue activities. Her stories carry an inspiring and powerful message that you don’t have to be an adult to make a difference. Children like Tony are proof of how one small act of caring can have an important impact in helping wildlife in danger. It has become Burnham’s mission to share the stories of young environmental activists with other children.
  • Burnham’s book is a compassionate and well-crafted story. Her beautiful photographs document Tony’s life and work at the family elephant conservation center in northern Thailand. Tony mixes powdered elephant milk into a huge baby bottle and teaches Baby Pumpuii how to drink. He sleeps in a loft above the new elephants so that he can feed the baby four times a night. He climbs onto Nam Cho’s back and trains her in how to move forward, stop, and turn as he guides her along a dirt path into the jungle. They go for a swim in Mekong River. When a fire breaks out, Tony leads all the elephants to safety in the cool mountaintops, while his parents battle the fire.
  • Burnham’s book helps children understand and respect the interconnection between humans and all life. She introduces children to “cultural learning, language, animal facts, geography, and laws  intended to protect wild animals from black market trade or from being abused to serve human interests.” Like Tony, children worldwide will be inspired to do their part to make a difference in their communities.

Tony feeds Baby Pumpuii a bottle of milk.   Photo Courtesy of Cathleen Burnham

Favorite Lines: “These will be your elephants, Tony,” said his father. “Forever?” asked Tony. “Until the day you die, Tony, just like any mahout,” said his father.

It was the beginning of a lifelong bond. Tony, Nam Cho, and Baby Pumpuii would love and protect one another for the rest of their lives.

Resources:  Make sure you read the Author’s Note at the end of Tony and His Elephants. To learn more about the amazing things children are doing to protect wildlife around the globe, visit the World Association of Kids and Animals (WAKA) and get involved. Check out The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, to learn about the retired circus elephants living in this safe 2,700-acre refuge in companionship with other elephants. For more ideas about how you can make a difference in your community, visit the Earth Day website.

*View Joanna Marple’s inspiring review of Tony and His Elephants on her  website.

Cathleen Burnham is a journalist, writer and wildlife photographer. In addition to Tony and His Elephants, Burnham is the author of Doyli to the Rescue, and the Tortuga Squad. They are the first three books in a series of six books that profile wildlife preservation efforts being undertaken by kids around the globe.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers share a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

**I was provided with a copy of Tony and His Elephants in exchange for a fair and honest review.