Friday, May 14, 2010

Mama Miti

Source: Mebane Public Library

"Thayu nyumba - Peace my people".  These are the words that Wangari Maathai said as she gave seeds to the Kenyan women who came to her for advice. No matter the problem that was presented, Wangari knew the tree that would bring a solution.  One woman's goats are starving, so she is given seeds to grow a muheregendi tree.  Its leaves would provide food for the goats.  Growing up in the shadow of Mount Kenya, Wangari learned that trees were more than just plants.
They were a symbol of life and the healing powers of nature. As author Donna Jo Napoli writes, "Wangari changed a country, tree by tree.  She taught her people the ancient wisdom of peace with nature." Later known as Mama Miti - the mother of trees, Wangari went on to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 and continues today to symbolize the connection between nature and peace.

Mama Miti is a wonderfully written biographical text. The author's note, afterword, and glossary of Kikuyu words are great additions to the story. Kadir Nelson's artwork is stunning.  In his note at the end of the book (I think it is a great idea to have the illustrator explain their work. I would like to see this more often.), Nelson explained that he chose to use a combination of oil paints and printed fabrics "because African culture is rich with textiles and color" and he wanted to "reflect an aesthetic of both East Africa and his work."

My wife used this book to teach story elements to her 7th grade Language Arts class.  One of the foci in their Social Studies class is Africa, so Mama Miti was a nice way to cross curriculum.  There aren't many juvenile literature biographies with the African continent as a setting, so it's nice to have this book as a resource. I won't be surprised to see this book on many best of 2010 lists in December and January.

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