Regrowth and Resilience: Debut Author Anna Orentstein-Cardona Scores an SLJ Star with 'The Tree of Hope'

Orenstein-Cardona’s debut picture book tells of a community's determination to save an ancient banyan tree damaged by Hurricane Maria.

Anna Orenstein-Cardona
Photo courtesy of Anna Orenstein-Cardona

Anna Orenstein-Cardona’s debut picture book, The Tree of Hope: The Miraculous Rescue of Puerto Rico’s Beloved Banyan (Beaming Bks., Aug. 2022) illustrated by Juan Manuel Moreno, tells the story of an ancient tree that was severely damaged by Hurricane Maria and in danger of being lost forever, but for the Herculean efforts of a community.

What was the inspiration for the book?
Growing up in Puerto Rico, I frequently visited the ancient banyan tree [jagüey blanco] that stood guard by the historic San Juan Gate. I was in awe of its giant size and phenomenal beauty.

For locals, the tree, which weighed more than 30,000 pounds and measured over 50 feet in height, symbolized the indomitable spirit of the Puerto Rican people, and its fall was a shattering blow.

The Tree of Hope is inspired by the tree’s miraculous rescue and regrowth; it’s a reminder of the power of community and the importance of never giving up.

Tell us about your path to publication.
I wrote the first draft of The Tree of Hope in the fall of 2017, after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico. It was a simple way—aside from other relief efforts my family and I were involved in—to honor my country.

The following year, I queried a few literary agents, without success. I got disheartened and put the story to the side. Then in the summer of 2020, I lost my beloved mother after a brave fight against cancer. It was a period of deep sorrow, but also of a renewed appreciation for the tenderness of life and the importance of leaving a legacy.

My mother taught me to be proud of our heritage, and I knew that The Tree of Hope would be the conduit to allow me to share an inspiring true story and to provide a glimpse into the courageous spirit of my people.

In September of 2020, #LatinxPitch was hosting a kid lit event for creators of children’s literature. I prepared my pitches. Naomi Krueger, acquisitions editor at Beaming Books, provided excellent editorial feedback and the opportunity to revise and resubmit. Almost 12 months later, I was offered my publishing deal.

What kind of research did you do?
A few months after Hurricane Maria, I visited my beloved jagüey blanco and interviewed a few locals. Despite not having electricity or water for months, volunteers visited the tree around the clock, watered it, held vigils, and poured their love into it.

I also set out to find the tropical bonsai expert who helped lead its rescue. His knowledge helped me during the editing process and with some of the material that I include in the educator’s guide.

What were the most challenging aspects?
Describing the story vividly within the confines of word count in the picture book format. A key element in helping me was my brilliant editor, Naomi, and superbly talented illustrator, Juan Manuel Moreno.

What surprised you most about the publishing process?
The amount of time that it takes to bring a book to life. It can take years!

If you had to do it all over again, what would you change?
I’d like to take away the years of rejection, but there is a reason for everything.

What do you hope readers will take away?
A reminder of the intrinsic link between humankind and nature, as well as the power of community and perseverance. We can rise above any challenge in life with hope and courage.

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Shelley Diaz

Shelley Diaz ( is the Reviews Editor at School Library Journal.

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