The Boy Who Grew A Forest: The True Story of Jadav Payeng by Sophia Gholz

Only by growing plants, the Earth will survive.”

–Jadav Payeng


There are a variety of reasons why I chose to share this book with my class:

  1. I find picture book biographies captivating. Thank you to my friend and coach Susan Kennedy (@readingteachsu) for opening my eyes and heart to them.
  2. #MeetSomeoneNewMonday. On Mondays, my students are introduced to someone who has contributed to the world in their own unique way. By the end of the week, we read a picture book biography that shares the individual’s story. We read to enjoy. We read to learn. We read to grow ideas.
  3. India is a place many of my students once called or still call home. The setting itself was a gift– an opportunity to offer my readers a mirror and a window.
  4. It got me thinking about our literacy units of study. How neat it would be for students to explore this text then synthesize with a video! How encouraging it would be for students to return to this story during persuasive writing! How empowering it would be for children to see that their voices and choices matter!

“What part of the world is he from?!” readers asked eagerly, while studying the cover. This reader had a contagious excitement about her when she learned the answer was India.

Sophia Gholz’s words and Kayla Harren’s illustrations are perfectly woven together– words full of hope and pictures created with calming colors. I appreciate how problem & solution and cause & effect text structures are weaved into the overall chronological organization. This was fresh on my mind as we’ve been busy in nonfiction research teams!

Young readers recognized that Payeng was responsive to his surroundings– people and animals. People wanted to harvest? Payeng continued to plant. People wanted to hunt? Payeng protected. Animals returned home? Payeng made sure they were fed. He solved problems in peaceful, nurturing ways.

Check out my favorite two-page spread:

Fourth graders paused to consider how Jadav Payeng spent his time when he was their age. One reader commented, “He could have been reading or playing with his friends, but he chose to take action.”

“Okay, readers. Get those pencils moving! What is the unique life lesson we are learning?”

Antony’s Jot:

“Sometimes in life you have to sacrifice to save.”

Izzy’s Jot:

“In life, it’s hard to let go of your own childhood to do something not only for you but for the whole world.”

Ambarish’s Jot:

“The life lesson is you should always do something if that something is changing our world.”

Jadav Payeng is like a flower because he is calm.”

-Claire

He is helpful because he made the world a better place with his forest. He is saving the world so more animals can live there and have a happy home.”

–Kyle

Comments during short film:

  • “He doesn’t want to get awards. He’s not doing it for that.” -Raf
  • “In the book, I understood that he was planting trees. In the video, the message was more clear. I now better understand why. He really wanted to make the area better for more island space.” -Evelyn
  • “He really loves trees and the environment more than himself.” -Olivia

During my initial reading, I felt a great sense of wonder bubble up inside of me. I needed to know more about this fascinating individual. My research led me to a National Geographic short film: Forest Man. I have embedded the video above and inserted the official link below. I hope you’ll enjoy learning more as much as my students and I have. Right now, we’re feeling inspired by the idea that one person can change the world and motivate others to join in.

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