This picture-book biography of Jadav Payeng, hailed as “the forest man of India,” details his effort to single-handedly reforest his river island home.
In the opening pages of the book, 14-year-old Payeng is distraught by the destruction that deforestation and erosion are causing in his community, an island on the mighty Brahmaputra River in northeastern India. Every day after taking care of his chores, he plants trees on a sandbar laid bare by erosion. For over 35 years he does this, planting first bamboo trees and then other species. Today, Molai Forest is a lush woodland that is no longer desolate: It is home to elephants, rhinoceroses, deer, wild boars, vultures, and tigers. Widdowson’s simple, brightly colored art unfolds as the text does, showcasing stark, eroded shorelines and stranded animals in the opening pages, then verdant coastal forests and smiling animals at the book’s close. Additional backmatter details Payeng’s continued commitment to the revitalization of this fragile ecosystem along with further biographical information, such as his receiving one of India’s highest civilian awards, the Padma Shri. This is the second such picture book about Payeng, following The Boy Who Grew a Forest, by Sophia Gholz and illustrated by Kayla Harren (2019). Payeng is a member of the Mishing, a marginalized tribal community in India; as climate change greatly affects Indigenous and vulnerable communities, this coverage is both welcome and necessary.
An excellent, child-friendly introduction to a global issue. (fast facts, glossary, further reading) (Picture book/biography. 5-8)