I love children’s books, particularly when they blend great storytelling and powerful messaging. Ben Okri’s latest offering, a children’s book illustrated by Nigerian-Italian artist Diana Ejaita, is a moving story about a 7-year old eco-warrior fighting for her beloved tree friends.
In Every Leaf a Hallelujah published by Other Press, you will meet Mangoshi, a 7-year old girl who lives in a village by a forest. To help her dying mother, she journeys into the forest to find a special flower with healing powers. In the course of her journey, she witnesses the horrifying destruction of trees in the forest and decides to fight for them.
Ejaita’s illustrations are colorful, immersive, and brings the story to life. Okri is still the master storyteller and a weaver of words, so the writing is gorgeous—a mix of folklore and poetry.
The book celebrates a deep love for trees. Talking trees endowed with delightful personalities remind us that trees are worthy of our love for how they evoke our deep past and anchor the forest world, which is home to a universe of animals and plants that we need for our survival. You get to meet “stern old irokos that never laughed, solid Obeches with their proverbial air, bright young flame trees with lively senses of humor, growing jacarandas with chattering branches, very ancient baobabs that were economical in their movements and seemed to pour out wisdom. There were trees that liked talking and ones that had the gift of listening.” This is a story about loving nature, the life it holds, and why it’s worth fighting for.
The book also shines a light on youth eco-activism. 7-year-old Mangoshi is a courageous eco-warrior. Her fight against the destruction of trees channels the the passion of youth activists like Sweden’s Greta Thunberg and Uganda’s Vanessa Nakate and reminds us of the importance of children’s voices in the fight for our planet.
Readers come away from this book understanding that killing trees is killing humans. The life of the planet and the life of humanity are bound together. Every Leaf a Hallelujah convey this message to young readers in a way that speaks to them and tells them that their voices matter. “Be Brave,” a tree says to Mangoshi, “You are small, but your very smallness is powerful.”
The book’s honest and thoughtful attention to deforestation makes it a go-to parents committed to helping their children become aware of environmental crisis and what we can do differently to help the planet. Between talking tree friends who are as charming as there are wise and the folkloric feel of Okri’s narration, the book is both a page-turner and an excellent primer on environmental justice.