I have a peach tree in my front yard. Some years, there are lots of peaches and we scramble to pick our share before the deer get to them. Other years, we get little or no fruit, or the peaches remain green and hard instead of ripening. Those years are frustrating for the whole family! We look forward to making peach pie, salsa, and jam, and all we get is disappointment.
Amy-Jill Levine and Sandy Eisenberg Sasso take up this very topic in The Good for Nothing Tree. Despite careful watering, mulching, and trimming over several years, the fig tree in the story remains small and fruit-free. Some people want to cut it down, but the children plead for more time, until at last, the tree produces enough fruit to make yummy fig treats.
Try one or more of these activities with children to explore the values of patience, persistence, relationality, protecting the weak, and love as you read the story together.
Patience. The children watch and wait for multiple years before the fig tree bears fruit. The gardener tells them they were right to be patient. Ask children: How does it feel to wait for something you want to happen (like a birthday party or big game)? What do you do to help you be patient? Brainstorm together a list of additional ways for practicing patience.
Persistence. Even though the tree isn’t bearing fruit, the children persist in taking care of it. They water it, pull weeds around it, put mulch over its roots, and trim its branches. Invite kids to identify a big goal, like achieving a personal best in something or reducing plastics use in their community. Then put together a graphic plan (a diagram with words and pictures) that shows various steps they can take to help them achieve their goal.
Relationality. The children have strong connections with each other through their care for the tree. Invite children to think about the people with whom they are connected. Encourage them to pick one and draw a picture of something they have done together because of their connection. For example, they might work together to cook dinner with a caregiver, stand up to a bully with a friend, collect canned goods for a food pantry with a group leader, or take care of a family pet with a sibling.
Protecting the Weak. Throughout the story, the children work together to support the fig tree, even when others want to cut it down. Ask children: What did people say about the tree when it wasn’t growing fast enough? How did the children stand up for the tree? What could you do to stand up for someone that others think is ‘good for nothing’? Create a poster together, using words and pictures to share your ideas for protecting those who need extra support.
Love. The children love the tree and believe it loves them back. Invite children to create a card, video, or social media message that says “I love you” to someone in their lives. Encourage them to share some reasons they love that person, pet, or other entity in their creation.