Seeds of Change
This book gives a general overview of Wangari Maathai’s life. The author artfully describes Wangari’s days in the village as a young girl, her interaction with nature as she helps her mother; and her time in school in Kenya. The latter is particularly useful as the author provides details about her family’s commitment to education and Wangari’s excellent performance in Kenyan schools before her academic education in the United States. Her activist status after she returns to her home country is also chronicled and is a large part of the storyline. The opportunity to live on two different continents allows Wangari to compare the status and the quality of life for women in her country of Kenya with that of women in the U.S. Her passion for human rights and her knowledge and expertise as a scientist form the basis of her work as an activist in social justice issues that include protecting the environment. She courageously works in collaboration with other Kenyan women in tree planting efforts and challenges greedy businessmen and government officials eager to sell “more and more land to big foreign companies” for timber and coffee plantations (no pag). Tree planting becomes a part of her social justice movement which is later renamed “The Greenbelt movement”. The author describes the movement as a source of life and nourishment for human beings and animals alike. Opposition against the movement from international companies and corrupt government officials only serves to fuel Wangari’s passion of saving the environment. Planting trees earns her the name Mama Miti (Mother of Trees). Her hard work earns respect from her fellow Kenyans who elect her to represent them in parliament. The government eventually gets the message and she is appointed the minister of environment. The greatest recognition comes when the world acknowledges her work and she is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. The book provides great examples about nature, science, education, culture and government. However, the vocabulary is occasionally quite advanced for a picture book. Teachers may need to explain scientific words like: “molecules” and “photosynthesis” (no pag.). The colorful illustrations add brightness and focus to the content but they occasionally portray misleading cultural depictions. There are several village women working on farms in fancy dresses, shoes, and lipstick and this leads the reader to wonder how close to reality this depiction is. Women in Kenya, as I would imagine women in other parts of the world, dress down when gardening or working in the farms. Illustrations should be as close to reality as possible to avoid implanting the wrong knowledge and impression in readers-especially young children; some of whom have no knowledge of other cultures except their own. Nevertheless, I would recommend this book for children in upper elementary classes and for home collections.
Published in Africa Access Review (May 11, 2011)
Copyright 2011 Africa Access –
Jane Irungu, University of Oregon