The Boy Who Grew A Forest is a gorgeous book with an important message: No matter how small or insignificant you may think you are, one person can accomplish great things. Even grow a forest.
The story begins simply with a boy who loved trees. “In India, on a large river island, among farms and families hard at work, there lived a boy who loved trees…But each rainy season, floodwaters swallowed more and more of the beautiful tree-covered land.”
When Jadav Payeng was a young teen, he witnessed the death of hundreds of snakes that had become stranded on a sandbar near the island where he lived, and he became determined to do something about it. He knew what the island needed was trees: trees would lead to other growing things and the animals would be able to thrive again. The elders of his village gave him twenty bamboo saplings. And from those humble beginnings, Jadav Payeng grew a forest, which in turn grew other plants and eventually welcomed a whole variety of animals.
The illustrations, in muted earth tones, perfectly depict the landscape of a flooded sandbar and its eventual transformation. The boy transports cow dung, earthworms, termites, and even red ants to create a rich soil. As pages turn, the reader watches as each new addition slowly turns a barren sandbar into a vibrant forest.
Some additions, however, are not welcomed by the villagers. “Fear swept over the villages when tigers arrived. So, the man planted more grasses to attract small animals that would keep the tigers happy in the forest.” When elephants began to feast on farmers crops, he planted fruit trees to feed the elephants.
The Boy Who Grew a Forest is a testament to the perseverance and ingenuity of the human spirit. In 1979, a young boy saw a problem and through his persistence, and many years of toil, he solved the problem. The “Molai Forest” is now over 1300 acres.
This book was brought to my attention this past April when it won the Sigurd Olson Nature Writing Award (SONWA) from Northland College. On Sigurd Olson’s birthday, April 4, Northland College announces its choices for the best in nature writing for the previous year. SONWA categories include adult nonfiction and children’s literature. (See https://www.northland.edu/sustain/soei/sonwa/ for a list of all past award winners.)