The village of Hargigo in the tiny African country of Eritrea was once a landscape of dust and deprivation … until mangrove trees planted “by the shore of the salty Red Sea” started a chain of events that vastly changed village life for the better.
The trees’ leaves provide food for the hungry animals, who in turn make better milk for their offspring that causes the flocks to multiply which provides more meat and milk for the hungry villagers. The tree’s branches become firewood, while its roots are home for “many sea creatures” from which the local fisherman reap rich bounties. And, all the while, the Hargigo women continue to plant more mangrove saplings to nurture the cycle of improvement.
This miraculous tree-planting project belongs to Dr. Gordon Sato, a cell biologist by training, who never forgot his experiences as a teenager trapped in the deserts of Manzanar, one of the many U.S. prison camps that incarcerated 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry without cause during World War II. In memory of “his experiences of growing corn in the desert at Manzanar,” in hopes of transforming “those experiences into something good,” Dr. Sato named his international tree planting efforts The Manzanar Project. From Eritrea to Mauritania to Morocco, the good doctor is hoping (planning!) to eradicate poverty and hunger (not to mention reduce global warming) one village at a time!
Co-authors Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore (who is also Cindy Kane) manage to weave two related stories into a glorious single title. Enriched by Roth’s striking mixed-media collages, the transformation of Hargigo alternates between a lovely, repeating poem on the left pages, while the right pages enhance the sparse verse with further details and explanation. Then follows Dr. Sato’s own story in the six-page “Afterword,” filled with photographs from his many experiences, including his multiplying trees and their planters hard at work.
Mangrove Tree is undoubtedly awe-inspiring, a necessity for every bookshelf, both public and private. It soothes and comforts, as it teaches and inspires. You need to read this with your children today … and then go and plant a tree together – as far as Africa, as close as your own back yard. Mangrove, ginkgo, dogwood, birch … the more the merrier, not to mention down right healthier!