The 2012 Giverny Award winner is a book entitled: Eliza's Cherry Trees: Japan's Gift to America, (c) 2011, and published by Pelican Publishing Company. It was authored by Andrea Zimmerman and illustrated by Ju Hong Chen. It tells the true story of how Washington, DC became famous for its cherry trees and "cherry blossom time." The trees are in bloom for about 14 days each spring--sometime between March 15th to April 18th. Most of the trees are Yoshino cherry trees--although there are 12 other species among the now 3,750 trees.
The book's main character is a woman who is a plant activist, world traveler, and a National Geographic Society editor/writer/photographer. We learn how she worked for decades to build a "botanical bridge" between the USA and Japan by convincing Japan to donate 3,020 Japanese cherry trees and pursuading the authorities in Washinton, DC to plant them in 1912.
Ju Hong Chen's striking illustrations are evocative, colorful, offer multiple perspectives, are full of period people, and create an "old-time" ambiance. The book's cover is memorable and iconic--a charming palette of blues, pinks, grays, and whites.
Author Andrea Zimmerman's descriptive text helps children understand artist Chen's visual story-telling and consists of 1-2 small paragraphs per illustrated scene. We also like how Zimmerman's words reveal Eliza's inner thoughts. It was also no small feat for her to condense and simplify this historical story to make it accessible to children. We think it works best with children from ages 5 to 8.
What can a child learn fom this book? Inspiration for plant appreciation and activism. How a city can plan an urban plantscape. How US history can teach us how plants have the capabilty of beautifying public spaces and enticing visitors. How a woman with vision and long-term persistence can accomplish great things. Why Eliza Scidmore wanted to build a "botanical bridge" between the US and Japan. How she used her talents and her position at the National Geographic Society to create a social network to accomplish her goals. (It even included our nation's first lady, the wife of Japan's ambassador, and a generous Japanese scientist--the man who discovered adrenalin.)
We think this book can also lead to understanding how cherry blossoms on other species of cherry trees can ultimately become cherries. It should be noted that many kinds of Japanese ornamental blossom cherries do not yield edible fruit cherries.
It did not escape us that 2012 is the 100th anniversary of the planting of Washington, DC's Japanese flowering cherry trees. This makes the book especially relevant. Cherry trees typically live about 60 years, so over time, almost all the original trees have been replaced. A few of the hundred-year-old, original trees are still growing. The trees traveled by ship for 3 months to get to Washington, DC from Japan and were especially hardy--all survived the journey!
Dr. David Fairchild, plant explorer and USDA official, imported some cherry trees from Yokohama in 1906 and planted them on a hillside on his own property in Chevy Chase, MD to test their hardiness. He helped Eliza achieve her goal as well. (Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden in Coral Gables, Florida is named in his honor.)
By the way, the cherry tree that 6-year-old George Washington supposedly chopped down was an ENGLISH cherry tree.