Friday, December 17, 2021


Children’s books do important work,” I emphatically remind my students and writers throughout my classes, workshops and meet-ups. “They help young readers make sense of their world.”

But some children’s books - for instance Sean Rubin’s beautiful and important This Very Tree (Henry Holt, 2021), help readers of all ages, especially when their world experiences a traumatizing hurt. Think: the events of September 11, 2001.

The book’s subtitle, though written above the title, says it all: A STORY OF 9/11, RESILIENCE, AND REGROWTH. 

The story is that of a Callery pear tree planted in New York City in the 1970’s.  Every year it ushered in the spring until September 11, 2001, when everything changed. Workmen uncovered one branch of the pear tree amidst the rubble in October.  One limb remarkably offering up leaves! A fighter tree if ever there was one, because, once moved to be nurtured, fed and cared for, nurserymen returned the tree to Vanquillen Park where it thrives today. This Very Tree tells the tree’s triumphant story, and how our nation continues to recover from this tragedy.

Two other children’s picture books published this summer paid tribute to the 20th Anniversary of 9/11: Charlesbridge’s Branches of Hope, written by Ann Maggee and illustrated by Nicole Wong, and Little Brown’s The Survivor Tree, written by Marcie Colleen and illustrated by Aaron Becker.

In This Very Tree, the pear tree tells her story.  Her voice grabbed me from the get-go.

 On a personal note, I began teaching my very first Picture Book Workshop at the Newberry Library, Wednesday, September 26, 2001, 15 days after that unforgettable Tuesday. Sadly, I was one of many who experienced a personal and indescribable loss that day, that of my young nephew, our family’s first-born grandchild – a much-loved husband, father, son, son-in-law, grandson, brother, cousin, friend, colleague, a loss that still tears at my heart. I was wobbly, to say the least. I remain forever grateful to my students that first year for blanketing me with their kindness that Fall.

This past September, the 20th Anniversary of my Newberry Library Picture Book Workshop, how could I not choose This Very Tree as my featured picture book for the semester?

  • In pure Show, Don’t Tell fashion, writers could see the important work children’s books do.
  • They could see me, Living Proof that, in time, healing happens.
  • By sharing other picture books that told the same story, they could see the infinite possibilities available when telling a story. Indeed, each successive week, I presented three picture books that came at the same story three different ways.
  • And what Writer, as well as Human Being, doesn’t need to know about Resilience and Regrowth?

The Callory pear tree, the first tree to blossom in Vanquillen Park, continues to inspire.

         “… everyone who sees my flowers knows that spring will come.

FYI: you can learn more about this Life-affirming pear tree here.

You can also click on this YouTube video.

Each year three communities that endured tragedy in recent years receive seedlings from the Survivor Tree, thanks to the Survivor Tree Seedling Program.

I offer sincere thanks to my fellow TeachingAuthors – and you, our TeachingAuthors readers – for helping me make it through yet another CrazyCrazy Year…with the knowledge, of course, that Spring will come again.

Let’s keep keepin’ on!

Esther Hershenhorn


Thanks to Jone at Jone Rush Macculloch for hosting today’s Poetry Friday.


Carmela Martino said...

I didn't know about this amazing tree, Esther. Thanks so much for sharing its story and the moving video about its recovery and healing. I'm glad to know you're healing, too.

Seth Kean said...

Thanks for this story, Esther. Keep up the great work!

April Halprin Wayland said...

You've told me about sharing three books on the same topic... It's such a beautiful way to teach writing by as you say, showing rather than telling.
I appreciate you... you're so easy to love, Esther.