Every Leaf a Hallelujah

Illustrated by Diana Ejaita

“You humans seem to think that we trees are just decoration. But we are beings like you. We feel. We respond to love and attention. You should see how we glow when we are loved.”

In this beautifully illustrated allegorical fantasy (reminiscent of Little Prince) a young girl named Mangoshi is asked to find a sacred flower in the forest near her African village. Her mother is sick, and the flower can cure her. Mangoshi visits the neighboring woodland, sits down against a tree, and dozes off. In a dreamlike encounter, she hears trees moving and talking: “the whole forest had gathered around her, in a dense circle, like elders at a tribal meeting.” Something important needs to be done, but Mangoshi is not ready, and the trees decide to “wait and see what she’s made of. It has to be the right person. It will be wasted if she’s not the right person.” Mangoshi goes home without finding the flower, but a year later, at age 7, has the opportunity to try again. By that time, the wasting away of the forest, of people, of crops, and of the weather is apparent. And they are all connected. As Dad tells Mangoshi, “If you bring back the flower, the flower will save the village. And if you save the village, the village will save the forest.” Mangoshi goes back into what used to be dense woodlands, but now “the destruction of the forest had been more extensive than anyone could have imagined.” With the forest almost dead from being logged, the possibility that she will find the flower is diminished. Feeling sad about the loss of trees and the health of her mother, Mangoshi enters another dreamlike state and comes across an ancient baobab tree. The baobab teaches her about what trees are, how they communicate, and their importance in ecological webs. Through magical dream travel, the baobab shows Mangoshi different trees and biomes around the world. When they return to Africa, Mangoshi wakes up at the foot of the old baobab only to see the loggers approach. Refreshed and inspired by the tree friends she met, Mangoshi stands up to the loggers, shielding the tree with her body. “You will not touch a single tree in this forest!” Although threatened, she refuses to budge and tells everyone of the crucial importance of trees. Her actions attract attention, of other villagers, of the press, and eventually of the local governor who halts all logging. The smiling baobab gives Mangoshi the flower, saying “It’s a flower that only grows … when someone has made a great act of courage.” Mangoshi returns to her village, her mom recovers, and the community takes up the fight to save the forest. “Now I know what your secret is,” Mangoshi tells the baobab. “All the trees radiate love… and every leaf is a halleluiah.”

Every Leaf a Hallelujah is a fierce celebration of trees as non-human persons and guardians of ecosystem stability. It offers a model for youth environmental action and affirms the power of collective action to stop ecocide, especially the logging of tropical forests. Although presented as a fairy tale adventure in which one human life is at stake, the book suggests that the health of all humanity is connected to the health of forests.

For climate literacy instruction, this book is excellent for introducing conversations about the role of trees and forests in ecosystems everywhere. Several types of African trees—obeche, mahogany, iroko, flame tree, jacaranda, sycamore, conifer, teak, masquerade, palm, and baobab—are named and presented as a diverse nonhuman community. As the baobab tells Magoshi, “We hold the earth together. We are the link between heaven and earth. We make the environment stable. We have great healing powers. And we’re older than the human race.” Some concepts Mangoshi learns about include how trees communicate with other trees through their roots, how they are the lungs of the earth and help clean the air, how they stabilize the environment in different biomes, and how they offer fruit, nuts, and medicinal value. Connected with the baobab’s claims that trees are like humans—each very different, all needing love, attention, and protection—the book advocates for non-human personhood, Earth’s aliveness (see vitalism, animism, Gaia), and Rights of Nature as forms of perception (see Indigenous Worldview) that humanity needs to adopt to stop the climate emergency and biodiversity loss.

Amplified by evocative illustrations, the book also models youth environmental activism in the character of Mangoshi. Although she initially feels powerless to save the forest, Mangoshi realizes that she can make a difference if she lets everyone know what she has learned about trees. As she stands her ground facing loggers, Mangoshi informs anyone who will listen about why trees are so important. Loggers, journalists, local villagers, and then a governor—the community listens to her stories and enacts change. When the book mentions a community of happy trees in Africa—a reference to the Green Belt Movement—the message is that reforestation works and that humans have a responsibility to protect trees (see conservation) wherever possible. In the end, Every Leaf a Hallelujah proves that education and inspiration can empower even small children to make a big difference.

©2023 ClimateLit (Mary Woodbury)


Book trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-O9eAMNAQzs

Locus Magazine review: https://locusmag.com/2022/09/karen-haber-reviews-every-leaf-a-hallelujah-and-forgotten-gods-the-art-of-yoann-lossel/

Brittle Paper’s review: https://brittlepaper.com/2022/02/a-childrens-book-about-loving-and-fighting-for-trees-review-of-ben-okris-every-leaf-a-hallelujah/

LitHub excerpt: https://lithub.com/every-leaf-a-hallelujah/

Publisher: Other Press, 2021

Pages: 96

ISBN: 978-1800241626

Audience: Little People (4-7), Questers (8-13), Rebels (14-older)

Format: Novels, Picturebooks, Poetry and Short Stories

Topics: Animism, Biodiversity Loss, Bioregions, Climate Emergency, Collective Action, Conservation, Earth's Aliveness, Ecocide, Ecosystems Balance, Forests, Fruit, Gaia, Green Belt Movement, Indigenous Environmental Practices, Indigenous Worldview, Logging, Medicine, Non-Human Personhood, Nuts, Rainforests, Reforestation, Rights of Nature, Trees, Vitalism, Youth Climate Activism