It is the depths of the Great Depression and, like so many others of the time, Pavel, a Jewish immigrant new to the U.S., can’t find work. A rabbi tells him about a government work relief program, and soon Pavel and a friend have joined the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). One of the CCC’s best known projects is the one for planting trees. So many trees were planted on barren land across the country that the CCC became known as “America’s Tree Army.” Yet, even though Pavel is a committed “soldier,” some coworkers treat him with suspicion, even sneering that he is not a “real American.”
Other crew members, though, gladly help Pavel improve his English. And when they all gather together to celebrate the Fourth of July, Pavel stands at attention and proudly sings every word of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” His pride in being an American is unmistakable.
Since most of the illustrations depict the countryside, with blue sky and vegetation, and the men enjoying hearty meals, there is no sense of the widespread suffering of this time. An author’s note includes more information about the Civilian Conservation Corps.
This book depicts a part of American history with which children may not be familiar, and demonstrates that Jews played a significant part in this worthy endeavor.
Susan Kantor was a senior writer/editor for Girl Scouts of the USA, a children’s book editor, and a past judge for the National Jewish Book Awards in the illustrated children’s book category. She is a writer and a docent at the Rubin Museum in New York City, where she leads public and private tours.