written by Franck Prevot; illustrated by Aurelia Fronty
2015 (Charlesbridge Publishing)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher
It may be because wa-ngari means "she who belongs to the leopard" that Wangari feels as though she is part of the entire forest.
Young Wangari felt like she was part of the forest that surrounded her childhood Kenyan home. She would collect water at the foot of a fig tree each day. Her mother taught her that a tree "was worth more than its wood." At an early age she was troubled by the cutting of trees, but what could she do about it? Thanks to her brother and mother, Wangari was able to start by getting an education which was unusual for a woman at that time. After spending five years studying in America, she returned to Kenya to find an independent country but also a place where the land was still being plundered of its natural wealth. Wangari started the Green Belt Movement in 1977 so she could go about reversing the trend of forest destruction. She encouraged other women to plant trees and confront government officials who wanted to continue as usual. Even bolder was standing up to Kenya's president by thwarting efforts to build a skyscraper and a project that threatened several species. For this she suffered physical and mental humiliation through imprisonment. Wangari was fighting for more than the trees. She was pushing for democracy to take root in Kenya.
The illustrations for this book are so striking. There is a spread on pages 36-37 that should be framed and hung in a museum. Wangari Maathai is set against a red background with Mount Kenya in the back. Two doves fly overhead as she is surrounded by different plants. It's one of the best illustrations I have ever seen in a picture book.
Wangari Maathai's life included a Nobel Peace Prize and other accolades. She is definitely a person to be studied during biography projects, plant units and/or Earth Day celebrations.