By Robin Jacobson.
It is an unfortunate fact of Jewish library life that some holidays are richer in children’s books than others. Our library’s shelves overflow with Hanukkah books. Alas, Tu B’Shevat, the New Year for Trees, does not equally excite the imaginations of book publishers, despite the holiday’s links to trendy environmental topics. Even publishers specializing in Jewish children’s books produce only a few titles for Tu B’Shevat. So how to satisfy teachers, parents, and children who crave Tu B’Shevat books?
Luckily, there are many mainstream, non-religious children’s books that speak to Tu B’Shevat environmental themes: the importance of trees, respect for the earth, and the intimate connection between human beings and the natural world. And, as an extra bonus, when you read a child a not-specifically-Jewish book, pointing out its connection to Tu B’Shevat, you take Judaism out of the synagogue and apply it to the outside world – a model you may hope the child will emulate!
Try these favorite picture-book titles for Tu B’Shevat:
Traditional Tu B’Shevat Books
Gellman, Ellie, Netta and Her Plant. Sweet story of a small girl who plants a seedling on Tu B’Shevat. As the child grows and matures, so does her plant.
Gershator, Phillis, Honi ‘s Circle of Trees. Talmud-based tale of Honi, who plants carob seeds while wandering over the ancient land of Israel. After a nap that magically lasts 70 years, Honi awakens to the rare gift of seeing the trees he planted long ago bear fruit.
Rosenberg, Madelyn, Happy Birthday, Tree! A young girl plans a fitting birthday celebration for a tree.
Schram, Peninnah, The Apple Tree’s Discovery. A discontented apple tree discovers its own unique qualities.
Mainstream Books with Tu B’Shevat Themes
Cooney, Barbara, Miss Rumphius. Alice’s grandfather says she must “do something to make the world more beautiful.” After puzzling over this obligation all her life, Alice ultimately fulfills it in a way that makes this book a perfect choice for Tu B’Shevat.
Levine, Arthur, Pearl Moscowitz’s Last Stand. An elderly woman’s cleverly orchestrated protest saves the last tree in an urban neighborhood.
Mallett, David, Inch by Inch: the Garden Song. Cheery, playful illustrations accompany this song of planting seeds and praying for the blessings of sun and rain.
Smith, Lane, Grandpa Green. A horticulturist identifies so strongly with his garden that he tells his life story through topiary.
Stewart, Sarah, The Gardener. During the Great Depression, a young girl cheers up her crotchety uncle by surprising him with a roof-top garden.
Aston, Dianna, A Seed is Sleepy. An imaginative introduction to many types of seeds, including tiny seeds that grow into giant redwood trees.
Codell, Esme, Seed by Seed. By planting apple trees throughout the young United States, Johnny Appleseed transformed its landscape.
Hopkins, H. Joseph, The Tree Lady. Determined to make the San Diego desert bloom, Katherine Sessions hunted for trees that could flourish there.
Jeffers, Susan, Brother Eagle, Sister Sky. Finely detailed paintings of Native American life illustrate Chief Seattle’s famous environmental message that “we are part of the earth and it is part of us.”
Lawlor, Laurie, Rachel Carson and Her Book that Changed the World. Life of the trail-blazing environmentalist who warned of dangers from pesticides.
Nivola, Claire, Planting the Trees of Kenya. Wangari Maathai, winner of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize, taught Kenyans to plant and tend trees for a more healthful environment.
Preus, Margi, Celebritrees. Stories of 14 historic trees, including a Post Office Tree which held letters for travelers on the Santa Fe Trail.