The Boy Who Grew a Forest: The True Story of Jadav Payeng

Cover: The Boy Who Grew a Forest: The True Story of Jadav Payeng

2020 Notable Social Studies Trade Books list – Winning Title!
Sigurd F. Olson Nature Writing Award - Winning Title
Florida Book Award Gold Winner
Recipient of the 2019 Eureka! Honors Award
Winner -Best of 2019 Kids Books - Most Inspiring Category

As a boy, Jadav Payeng was distressed by the destruction deforestation and erosion was causing on his island home in India's Brahmaputra River. So he began planting trees. What began as a small thicket of bamboo, grew over the years into 1,300 acre forest filled with native plants and animals. The Boy Who Grew a Forest tells the inspiring true story of Payeng--and reminds us all of the difference a single person with a big idea can make.



  • Dewey: 333.95/316092 B
  • Graphics: Full-color illustrations
  • Hardcover (9781534110243): 32 pages, 10 (w) x 10 (h), © 2019, 03/15/2019
  • PDF (9781534138421): 32 pages, 10 (w) x 10 (h), © 2019, 03/15/2019
  • Hosted ebook (9781534138568): 32 pages, 10 (w) x 10 (h), © 2019, 03/15/2019
  • Subject: Language Arts, Natural Sciences


  • Suggested Interest Level: Age 5 - Age 8
  • Suggested Reading Level: Grade 1
  • Lexile® Measure: 790
  • Guided Reading Level: N
  • Accelerated Reader® Quiz: Pending

BISAC Subjects


  • 2020 Notable Social Studies Trade Books list , Winner, 2020
  • Eureka! Honors Awards , Winner, 2019
  • Best of 2019 Kids Books - Most Inspiring Category, Winner, 2019
  • Florida Book Award Gold Winner , Winner, 2019
  • Sigurd F. Olson Nature Writing Award, Winner, 2019


Booklist - The Boy Who Grew a Forest

Adding to a growing corpus of biographies of unsung heroes, this timely tale highlights the connection between people and the environment. As a young boy, Jadav Payeng noticed that the sandbars around the river island on which he and his family lived were rapidly shrinking, leaving animals stranded and dying. He sought the wisdom of the village elders, who told him that the only way to help the animals was to build them new homes. They gave him 20 bamboo saplings to plant. Now, 40 years later, he is known as “The Forest Man of India” and his efforts have resulted in the rejuvenation of acres of forests, home to elephants and tigers and countless other creatures. Payeng’s story is eloquently told and beautifully illustrated. It will inspire readers to recognize the power of individual determination and can be paired with Wangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees (2015), by Franck Prévot, and The Secret Kingdom: Nek Chand, a Changing India, and a Hidden World of Art (2018), by Barb Rosenstock.

School Library Journal - The Boy Who Grew a Forest

Lush, realistic illustrations document young Jadav’s sadness, fear, determination, and eventual success as readers watch the barren, disintegrating island transform into a living forest supporting all manners of life. VERDICT An inspirational read-aloud for units on plants, the environment, or Earth Day.

Kirkus Reviews - The Boy Who Grew A Forest

The true story of a young boy who built a forest from the ground up in northeastern India. Inspired by the documentary Forest Man, debut author Gholz pens the story of Jadav Payeng. The story begins with the erosive impact of seasonal floodwaters on his island home, which propels Jadav to take action. A group of elders give him 20 bamboo seedlings to plant. He plants them and waters them every day, devising various methods of irrigation, and over time, his hard work pays off and a forest grows. Animals come back but with them come threats. However, Jadav inventively copes and continues to protect the forest. While the relative absence of the community throughout Jadav’s endeavors is somewhat startling, the story provides young children with a real-life example of the connections between man and nature. Gholz refers to Jadav throughout the book only as “the boy” or “the man,” which has a distancing effect. The depictions of Jadav himself as a child are similarly generic, whereas those of him as an adult are reasonably accurate to photographs. Moreover, facts indicate that Jadav was 16 when he started planting the trees, but the book shows him as a much younger child. The illustrations overall are detailed and engaging, however, with beautiful imagery of the islands and the forest. Backmatter provides further information, a glossary, and tips on planting a forest. An insightful if imperfect story of environmental success. (Picture book/biography. 5-8)


Author: Sophia Gholz

Sophia Gholz is a children’s book author and lover of trees. She grew up in northern Florida, surrounded by oak trees and longleaf pine forests. But Sophia’s favorite type of trees are the willows she encountered while visiting Australia as a child. Favorites aside, she believes that all trees are equally important. Today, Sophia lives by the beach with her family, where she spends her time researching, writing, and dreaming about faraway places. The Boy Who Grew a Forest is Sophia’s debut picture book. For more, visit:

Illustrator: Kayla Harren

Kayla Harren is the author and illustrator of Mary Had a Little Lizard, and the illustrator of a number of other projects, including Hannah's Tall Order and The Boy Who Grew a Forest: The True Story of Jadav Payeng. She lives in St. Paul, Minnesota.