111 Trees: How One Village Celebrates the Birth of Every Girl

By Rina Singh, illustrated by Marianne Ferrer. Kids Can Press, 2020. 36 pages. $18.99/hardcover; $11.99/eBook. Friends Journal recommends for ages 5–8.

As a boy, Shyam Sundar Paliwal (Sundar) accompanies his mother daily to the distant village well. He relishes spending time alone with her, a rare occurrence given that 11 malnourished family members crowd into a small, mud house. Sundar experiences his first trauma when his mother dies of a snakebite.

When Sundar grows up, he has two daughters and a son whom he and his wife treat as equals, regardless of the sexism exhibited in the village. Sundar works for a marble mining company.  This work entails removing soil and polluting the environment, leaving the land parched, and agriculture difficult. Sundar dreams of restoring the land and promoting gender equality. So he runs for village director and wins. A year later, his daughter dies from illness. Confined to one room, he weeps for a dozen days and then plants saplings to commemorate his beloved child. Sundar announces to his fellow villagers that every time a girl is born in the village, he will plant 111 trees in her honor if her parents pledge to send their daughter to school and refrain from having her marry until she is 18 years old.

The villagers react by thinking “Sundar has lost his mind. They reject his plan. It’s against their tradition to honor girls. They argue. They are afraid the world will laugh at them. They don’t understand this new way of thinking.”

Eventually the villagers agree to plant the trees to help the land recover. Sundar enlists the help of engineers from a nearby city to teach residents how to irrigate the trees using rainwater trenches that also provide potable water. The women no longer have to trek to the well. Hunger subsides because the water enables farmers to irrigate crops and the trees bear fruit.

The lushly illustrated volume ends with a background section that features photos of Sundar today and the many trees he encouraged villagers to plant. The background section introduces eco-feminism and explains that village women planted aloe vera to repel termites from the trees. They harvest the plants to make wellness products, providing the first source of livelihood for female villagers.

Despite the inaccuracy of describing Sundar’s mother’s snakebite as “poisonous” rather than “venomous,” the book tells the true story of a man who exemplifies egalitarianism and environmental stewardship. The volume could inspire young readers to pursue equality and to care for the earth.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this review listed the publisher’s recommended ages (5–8) in the book’s details. It has been updated to more clearly show our own age recommendation, as determined by the reviewer and the young Friends book review editor.

Sharlee DiMenichi is a member of Lehigh Valley Meeting in Bethlehem, Pa. She is an environmental educator, and works as an instructional assistant to elementary students.

Previous Book Next Book