Happy Birthday, Trees!

By Karen Rostoker-Gruber
Illustrated by Holly Sterling
Published by KarBen
(board book)

It’s Tu B’Shevat―Jewish Arbor Day―and a diverse group of children work together to plant a tree. After digging a hole, placing the tree, filling the hole with dirt, patting the ground, and spraying the garden hose, the children celebrate by wishing the tree a happy birthday, and then look forward to when it blossoms on Tu B’Shevat the following year.

This book won the PJ Library Author Incentive Award.

Happy Birthday, Trees! Reviews

In the latest board book offering from Kar-Ben, Happy Birthday, Trees! celebrates the holiday of Tu B’Shevat with a group of three children who go through all the various steps involved in planting a tree. Author Rostoker-Gruber starts the story right at the beginning of the process with grabbing a shovel and digging a hole. Each double-page spread includes a rhyming couplet followed by a repetition of the first line, which will make the book easy to follow along for children. The verses are playful and humorous, such as “Then, we’ll spray the garden hose, / and wet the tree (and soak our clothes). / On Tu B’Shevat we’ll spray the hose!” After the tree grows through the different seasons, the children get to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to it and circle it in dance. With spring’s arrival, the book ends satisfyingly with the children seeing their tree in full bloom. Sterling’s illustrations are both gentle and animated, and the characters depicted in the story are a diverse and inclusive group, with one of the toddlers being a dark-skinned boy wearing a kippa.

Happy Birthday, Trees! would be a welcome addition to preschools as an introduction to the holiday of Tu B’Shevat for the age group for which it was written as children will come away with a basic understanding and appreciation of how a tree is planted.

~ Freidele Galya Soban Biniashvili, The Sydney Taylor Shmooze

This lovely new picture book for preschoolers celebrates Tu Bushvat, the Jewish birthday for trees… With bouncy rhyme and delightfully colorful illustrations, a group of diverse children plant a tree for the holiday. They dig a hole, place the tree, pat the ground, and water their new seedling. A beautiful surprise arrives the following spring!

~ The Jewish Standard, page 10

On Tu B’Shevat, a diverse group of children works together to plant a tree. Then, they celebrate by wishing the tree a happy birthday and looking forward to when it blossoms the following year.

~ Multicultural Childrens Book Day

… I love how Rostoker-Gruber, in such a short story, has managed to convey not only the pleasure of the planting process but the complete cycle a tree experiences. Sterling’s cheerful illustrations full of movement and expression show readers how, in the year following the initial planting, the tree ultimately blossoms, spreading its perfume for all to enjoy. Happy Birthday, Trees! is truly a Tu B’Shevat treet!

~ Ronna Mandel, Good Reads with Ronna

… Karen Rostoker-Gruber’s celebration of Tu B’Shevat takes little ones step-by-step through the thrill of planting a tree and watching it grow. Her breezy, exuberant verses incorporate simple rhymes and repeated phrases that will allow even the youngest children to join in after a first reading. In her sweet board book Rostoker-Gruber captures the excitement kids feel for special holidays and the pride they feel when participating in their family’s or friends traditions. The cyclical nature of her story will also inspire children to want to plant and tend to their own tree for Tu B’Shevat (celebrated beginning at sundown on January 27, 2021 through nightfall on January 28) or when weather conditions permit.

Bright and filled with the high spirits of childhood, Holly Sterling’s illustrations of three adorable kids working together to plant a tree will captivate little readers. Decked out in their gardening clothes and each with a shovel, the three crouch and lie on the ground next to the hole to make sure the tree goes in straight and safely. Sterling has an eye for the kinds of realistic details that define children’s behavior: to make sure the hole is filled to the brim, one little boy pours on dirt from two shovels—one in each hand; and under the arched spray of the hose, the girl raises her arms to welcome the cool spray while a boy sticks out his tongue for a sip. Sterling’s lovely color palette and graceful lines create a cheerful, fresh story that adults will want to share with their children again and again.

A joyful and lively way to celebrate and/or introduce Tu B’Shevat to little ones as well as a charming story for young nature lovers any time of the year, Happy Birthday, Trees! would be an enchanting addition to home, school, and public library collections.

~ Kathryn Carrolls’ Blog “Celebrate Picture Books”

Karen Rostoker-Gruber Interviews