Planting Peace : the story of Wangari Maathai
The picture book Planting Peace is a story about Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Laureate for her environmental activism. It is about Maathai’s story and fascination with nature, love for education, and her environmental and political activism. The story begins with young Wangari and her quest for education in Kenya and later traveling abroad for university education. Wangari then returns to Kenya only to find a different environment than the one she left.
The book breaks down Wangari’s story into short simple stories with subtitles and pictures. It is well developed and captures sections of Wangari Maathai’s story that discuss environmental activism through the tree-planting movement. It shows how Wangari after coming back from the United States realized that the thick forests she loved when she was young were all gone and had been replaced by tea and coffee plantations. She also noted that children seemed to lack healthy food and mothers had no food for their children. After thinking about the situation Wangari was able to find solutions to the environmental issues. She began mobilizing communities and especially women to plant trees. In time, the dry water streams began to flow again, trees began to provide rain and women had food for their children.
In the story the author discusses issues going on in the country not only with the disappearance of trees but also the impact of colonization on education and agriculture, particularly the clearing of land for tea and coffee plantations, and also the problems of the post-independent government of Kenya after colonialism. However, the problems of post-independent Kenya are not discussed in a historical context and there is a possibility of students not understanding the impact of colonization in the region. The illustrations depict the context of the regions discussed in the text to some extent. However, there is an imbalance of illustrations where we see an over-emphasis of pictures of rural areas and people walking without shoes or students sitting on the floor in a classroom or where we see a chicken in the classroom, all of which can lead to misconceptions (p.15).
It seems that the author intends for the book to inspire activism in young readers by following in Wangari Maathai’s footsteps and selflessness. However, the title does not successfully convey that idea, nor do we see that emphasis in the text other than on the author’s note at the beginning of the book. It seems like the title was generated from Wangari Maathai’s “peaceful walks’ (p. 6) undisturbed thick green shrubs and fig trees before it was all gone. But this does less to explain how planting trees has to do with peace nor do we get any discussion of the title in the text.
Planting Peace joins a list of books that discuss Wangari Maathai’s work such as Seeds of Change: Planting a path to peace by Jen Cullerton Johnson, Planting trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Maathai by Claire Nivola, and Mama Miti: Wangari Maathai and the trees of Kenya by Donna Napoli and many other texts that draw from Wangari Maathai’s memoir Unbowed.
The book is a good read, though not particularly exciting, and would have been better if it was narrated in a continuous story format. I would recommend this book for students in grades 3 to 8 and to anyone interested in social justice and environmental activism.
Reviewed by Anne Rotich, PhD University of Virginia
Published in Africa Access Review (October 11, 2021)
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