The Picture Book Buzz

The Tree of Hope - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

I am really excited to share with you an amazingly beautiful and touching picture book about the rescue of a treasured banyan tree, the jagüey blanco, which grows outside the San Juan gate of Puerto Rico, following the devastation created by Hurricane Maria.

The Tree of Hope: The Miraculous Rescue of Puerto Rico's Beloved Banyan


Author: Anna Orenstein-Cardona


Illustrator: Juan Manuel Moreno


Publisher: Beaming Books (2022)


Ages: 4-8


Fiction


Themes:

Nature, community, natural disaster, resilience, and hope.


Synopsis:

The true story of a beloved banyan tree and a community that fought to save it in the wake of Hurricane Maria.


On the tropical island of Puerto Rico, there was an ancient banyan tree. His enormous twisted trunk rose up beside the San Juan Gate. Long roots hung from his wide-spreading branches and his emerald, leafy crown greeted all who passed by. This beloved tree stood on the shore of the island for over a hundred years—until the fateful time when the biggest hurricane in Puerto Rico's history slammed into the island, devastating communities and uprooting that very tree.


This lushly illustrated and evocatively written picture book tells the story of the majestic jagüey blanco, one of the most beloved trees in the city of Old San Juan. Puerto Rican author Anna Orenstein-Cardona weaves an epic tale based on the true story of this bearded watchdog of the island, how the tree was impacted by Hurricane Maria, and how a group of people rallied together to save it. With gorgeous illustrations by Juan Manuel Moreno, this picture book serves as an account of the devastating impact of Hurricane Maria and the strength of the people who continue to rebuild to this day.


Opening Lines:

On the tropical Caribbean island of Puerto

Rico, there was an ancient banyan tree. He was

a giant with an enormous, twisted trunk. Long

roots hung like beards from his wide-spreading

branches, and just like the forest kings of old,

he wore a crown of emerald-green leaves


What I LOVED about this book:

That lyrically gorgeous introduction to this impressive banyan tree is matched by Juan Manuel Moreno's equally stunning illustration. I fell in love with banyan trees when I first met one in Hawaii. They are as majestic, old, and powerful as the ancient Redwoods and Sequoias.

Text © Anna Orenstein-Cardona, 2022. Image © Juan Manuel Moreno, 2022.


I love that Anna Orenstein-Cardona wrote the story from the tree's point of view. Enabling the reader to witness, through the text and Moreno's awesome quadtych, the passage of time which the tree witnessed - from horse drawn carriages to cellphone cameras. A view which no other character in the story could have explored. And done with a light touch to avoid overly anthropomorphizing the tree.

Text © Anna Orenstein-Cardona, 2022. Image © Juan Manuel Moreno, 2022.


Exploring the relationship of the jagüey blanco with the community, we witness young loves, old friends, new families, birds, and cats sheltering in and under the grand tree's branches. We also meet the young girl thorough whose eyes and emotions, we feel the weight of the worry, loss, friendship, and hope for the tree and her community as a whole.


A sudden shift in the actions and expressions of the people and the menacing change to the sky and sea, announces the approach of Hurricane Maria. Having weathered many previous storms, the confident tree dug "his roots deeper into the rich Caribbean soil. He then raised his majestic branches and waited." But this hurricane was a formidable opponent. It slammed into the island and battered the tree. Already heartbroken and saddened by the images of the destruction and flooding, the reader turns to page to discover an almost surreal, moonlit image of the banyan tree toppled into the sea -


On land, all that was left was his large round stump

with roots pointing toward the sky in surrender.

As the day turned into night, a stillness fell upon the

banyan tree as he drifted between this world and the next.


- and then the girl asking: “Amigo,” a girl said, “¡estás vivo!”

Text © Anna Orenstein-Cardona, 2022. Image © Juan Manuel Moreno, 2022.

If the emotion packed into the text and the devastation in the previous images hadn't tugged at your heart and threatened to bring tears, the caring, concern, and emotion shown by this young girl to the tree surely will. Despite what she might have lost or experienced herself, this girl (and the rest of the community, including the birds and cats) set about to save their beloved jagüey blanco. And in the end themselves. Though you can guess the result, I'm certain you will enjoy the ending and the gorgeous illustrations.


All of the illustrations are so poignant and expressive; which combine with the honest, yet hopeful, lyrical text to create a beautiful picture book which is a joy to read again and again. The "Behind the Story" end note expands on the banyan's tree significance to the community, the powerful effects of Hurricane Maria, and "strength, courage, hope, and determination" shown by the people and their beloved tree day after day. This informational fiction picture book, based on a true story, is a remarkable book highlighting community, hope, resilience, and a love of nature.


Resources:

- what's the oldest tree near you - in your yard, your community, or state? Take a picture or draw an image of this tree. Does your state have a "monumental" tree? Check out monumental trees around the world at: https://www.monumentaltrees.com/en/ . This really big Kalaloch Redcedar (photo by Roger Barnett) is growing in the "Forest of the Giants" along the Pacific Northwest Coast.


- plant your own "tree of hope" in your yard or community.


- what can you do to help in your community after a storm? Write a list, a story, or draw a picture of how you could help.


- pair this with The Magic School Bus Inside a Hurricane by Joanna Cole and illustrated by Bruce Degen and Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans by Phil Bildner and John Parra.


If you missed the interview with Anna Orenstein-Cardona 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 see Susanna Leonard Hill's Perfect Picture Books.

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Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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