The Good for Nothing Tree

By Amy-Jill Levine and Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, illustrated by Annie Bowler. Flyaway Books, 2022. 40 pages. $18/hardcover; $16/eBook. Recommended for ages 3–7.

Parables are stories from another world which shine light on our own: as much light as we are ready for. They ask the hearer, “Could this story be about me, about us? How so?” Jesus loved teaching us through all kinds of parables, and this book draws on one of these, the parable of the fig tree (Luke 13:6–9).

Amy-Jill Levine, professor of Jewish and New Testament studies at Hartford International University for Religion and Peace, and Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, a rabbi and director of the Religion, Spirituality, and the Arts Initiative at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis, have written a children’s book that is tenderly and lushly illustrated by Annie Bowler. The book asks us to consider lessons this parable might hold. Though the book is recommended for children ages 3–7, adults sharing it with young people may find it speaks to them as well.

In the parable, the owner of a fruitless fig tree keeps returning to his orchard to see if it has made figs. After three years, he is about to give up on it and tells his caretaker to cut it down. But the caretaker says, “Let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.” In their telling, Levine and Sasso turn the landowner into an impatient gardener, and turn the caretaker into a diverse group of five children who have come to love the little tree. Their love wins out: after they have cared for it through long summers and winters, the tree (of climbing size by now) finally begins to bear figs, the sweetest gifts of all.

As in a good parable, there are many potential lessons for us. At the book’s end, they offer a number of queries with which grown-ups might explore these lessons with the young listeners. And then a special treat: a recipe for making fig balls.

Ken Jacobsen has lived, served, and taught in Quaker schools and communities for many years. Ken seeks to share the life of the Spirit from his poustinia, a retreat for sojourners. Ken is a member of Stillwater Meeting in Barnesville, Ohio.

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