Devora Busheri’s The Abba Tree is a sweet father-daughter vignette, with joyful illustrations that talks about a holiday without defining it, perhaps purposely geared towards the initiated Jewish reader. The story begins with the moving Talmudic quote about Honi and the trees he planted for future generations. It then jumps to modern protagonist Hannah’s whining about wanting a tree to climb. Her father says plant one because Tu B’shvat is coming, but Hannah wants a tree to climb right now! While dad rests she tries climbing trees. She fails with the slippery Eucalyptus and the scratchy Pine. The knobs on the Olive’s trunk get her to the top, but she sneezes and falls down. The Carob is too young. Her father suggests she plant an abba tree and she does, using his feet as roots and his strong arms to hold a swing. His hair sprouts branches for the benefit of animals and his pocket houses a bird. Hannah climbs up her father but she is too heavy and they both fall. Her father, abba, explains that they planted the Carob tree when she was born for her children to have one day.
The final picture shows her father as an old man, Hannah an older mom, and a little boy trying to climb a tree. The illustrations deliver the plot, creating a charming book that references a touching generational tradition and Honi’s kind ecological lesson.
Tu B’shvat is a holiday celebrated between mid-January and February on the fifteenth (Tu) day of the Hebrew month Shvat to mark the New Year of the Trees. In Israel, children celebrate by planting trees. Outside Israel, many Jews contribute funds to develop forests there. It is customary to try to eat foods from Israel, especially seven species mentioned in Deuteronomy 8: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates. In ancient times the first harvest of these foods became Temple offerings. Some share a Tu B’shvat Seder featuring these fruits. This warm picture book shows us a lovely holiday which connects humans with nature.
Ellen G. Cole, a retired librarian of the Levine Library of Temple Isaiah in Los Angeles, is a past judge of the Sydney Taylor Book Awards and a past chairperson of that committee. She is a co-author of the AJL guide, Excellence in Jewish Children’s Literature. Ellen is the recipient of two major awards for contribution to Judaic Librarianship, the Fanny Goldstein Merit Award from the Association of Jewish Libraries and the Dorothy Schroeder Award from the Association of Jewish Libraries of Southern California. She is on the board of AJLSC.