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The Picture Book Buzz

The Forest Keeper: The True Story of Jadav Payeng - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

Highlighting the amazing effect which a determined young person can have on the environment and the animals (and people) reliant upon the these trees and their stability, shelter, and food. A great example of the difference one person can make.

The Forest Keeper: The True Story of Jadav Payeng

Author: Rina Singh

Illustrator: Ishita Jain

Publisher: NorthSouth Books (2023)

Ages: 5-9



Conservation, planting trees, interconnectedness, biodiversity, and activism


Trees don’t grow on sandbars . . . but a boy from India grew a forest.

What can one person do in the face of global environmental degradation? Indian Jadav Payeng has proven that each and every one of us can make a difference. As a boy, he began planting trees on a sandbank in the state of Assam. Nobody believed that he would succeed in doing so. But since 1979, a forest the size of Central Park has emerged, offering a home to countless animals and plants. It was not until 2007 that a photographer accidentally discovered the forest and made Payeng known to the world beyond India.

Rina Singh has sensitively retraced the story of young Jadav. In Ishita Jain's picture book debut as illustrator, readers feel immersed in the spectacular habitat whose existence borders on a miracle come true.

Opening Lines:

1979. The river had behaved badly.

It burst over its banks and scattered hundreds of water

snakes on the sandbar. In the burning, hot sun, without

any tree cover, they shriveled up and died. Jadav, a tribal

boy, raced to the edge of his river island and stood


What I LOVED about this book:

Determined to save his island home, young Jadav Payeng pleads with the elders to plant trees - " 'Trees don't grow on sandbars,' they said with the sorrow of a thousand monsoons." The forest department merely offered him a bag of bamboo seedlings and said, "Go plant them yourself." So he did. He found an abandoned sandbar and got to work. And as the saying goes - "Necessity was the Mother of invention." Keeping the seedlings watered and trying to keep planting was more than one boy could do alone, so Jadav developed an ingenious way to water the seedlings.

Text © Rina Singh, 2023. Image © Ishita Jain, 2023.

Jadav successfully grew a bamboo thicket. Then he added other trees. His little sandbar not only survived monsoons, but the winds and river collaborated with him. They "helped disperse seeds to other parts of the island." I love how Ishita chose to show the different trees as vignettes of their leaves and fruit or flowers. And how she beautifully captured Jadav feelings toward his lush, green, growing forest.

Text © Rina Singh, 2023. Image © Ishita Jain, 2023.

Then just like Field of Dreams, once he built a forest, dozens of birds and animals arrived looking for homes, including tigers, rhinos, and foxes.

Text © Rina Singh, 2023. Image © Ishita Jain, 2023.

This colorful image is so stunning. I love the silhouettes of the birds against the deep colors of the setting sun. The other illustrations of the arriving animals and an elephant family are gorgeous, too. Interestingly, it was a few hungry elephants, who trampled huts in a nearby village, which caused an issue for Jadav. Not a tiger, fox, or rhino. Facing down enraged villagers, Jadav protected the elephants, his forest, and the other animals.

He continued to care for the now 1,359 acres of forest (larger than Central Park) and the animals who lived there or migrated through (including a herd of 100 elephants), unnoticed and undisturbed for the next thirty years. Until a wildlife photographer stumbled on the forest in 2009. The beginning and ending notes offer additional information on the river, this area of northeastern India, and Jadav and his forest. This is a delightful book highlighting a remarkable young boy who made a huge difference to the land and animals in this Indian river ecosystem. Showing readers the difference each one of us can make by stepping up and doing what's needed. By planting or helping plant as many types of trees and shrubs as we can.


- look around your community for Earth Day (Sat, Apr 22, 2023) planting activities and add your own trees and shrubs to the world.

- plant a tree at your house/apartment. There are some which can grow in a pot, if you don't have a yard. Or contact your school, local parks, or gardens and see if you can add a tree there.

- check out the Forest Keeper's Teacher Guide and the Forest Service's activity book for Forest Keepers.

- read The Boy Who Grew a Forest: The True Story of Jadav Payeng by Sophia Gholz, illustrated by Kayla Harren. Then compare and contrast how each writer /illustrator team told the story.

If you missed the interview with Rina Singh on Monday, find it (here).

This post is part of a series by authors and KidLit bloggers called Perfect Picture Book Fridays. For more picture book suggestions and resources see Susanna Leonard Hill's Perfect Picture Books.


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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