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Wangari Maathai book cover image

Wangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees

  • 1795


Four Starred Reviews!

By: Franck Prévot / Illustrated by: Aurélia Fronty

A tree is worth more than its wood.

Wangari Maathai said, “Trees are living symbols of peace and hope.” The trees that she and her Green Belt Movement planted are more than symbols, they are the result of the hard work of the women she enlisted to replant Kenya’s forests, replenish the wildlife, and instill democracy among the people.

This simply told story begins with Wangari’s childhood at the foot of the volcano Mount Kenya where, as the oldest child in her family, her responsibility was to stay home and help her mother. But when the chance to go to school presented itself, she ran there. In the 1960s, she was awarded the opportunity to travel to the US to study, and there she saw that even in the land of the free, there were still places that black people were not welcome.

Returning home, Wangari was determined to help her people and her country. She recognized that the deforestation by plantation owners and politicians building cities was at the root of her country’s devastation. Her courage and confidence carried her through obstacles thrown up by her adversaries.

Aurélia Fronty’s beautiful illustrations show readers the color and diversity of Wangari’s Africa--the green trees and the flowering trees full of birds, monkeys, and other animals; the roots that dig deep into the earth; and the people who work and live on the land. Wangari Maathai changed the way the world thinks about nature and ecology, and about freedom and democracy.

Look Inside the Book:

Author & Illustrator Bios:

Franck Prévot, author

Franck Prévot studied writing, business, and education. After he became a father, he rediscovered children’s literature with his children and students. He is the author of several picture books. He loves to tell stories, talk about books, and play with words.

Read more about Franck Prévot.


Aurélia Fronty, illustrator

Aurélia Fronty has always drawn. She attended the Duperre School of Applied Arts in Paris and specializes in the creation and design of textiles. Aurélia has illustrated many books for children, including J’ai le droit d’être un enfant, available in English as I Have the Right to Be a Child. She lives in France.

Read more about Aurélia Fronty.

Awards & Honors:

  • Children's Africana Book Awards Best Book for Young Children
  • Bank Street Best Children’s Books of the Year 2016 - outstanding merit
  • Booklist Top Ten Biographies for Youth
  • USBBY Outstanding International Books
  • IRA Notable Books for a Global Society
  • Amelia Bloomer Project List
  • CBC-NCSS Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People
  • Santa Monica Public Library's Green Prize for Sustainable Literature
  • ILA Teacher’s Choices Reading List

  • Editorial Reviews:

    Kirkus Reviews, starred review

    Wangari Maathai's biographical details, including, of course, her creation of Kenya's Green Belt Movement, are explicitly linked to feminist and human rights issues during her lifetime in this picture book.

    After an introduction to Wangari Maathai as a woman who "carried out her important work with important people"-and an immediate, affirming reference to "village women" as important people-the text moves into a present-tense description of the life and times of Wangari, "she who belongs to the leopard." Every double-page spread features striking, stylized artwork in lush colors, enhancing a thoughtful text. Predominant Kenyan attitudes toward women are boldly laid out: "Who is this woman who confronts them [Kenya's governing males] with a confident voice in a country where women are supposed to listen and lower their eyes in men's presence?" Similarly, the United States is indicted for its treatment of blacks during Wangari's years of education there, and President Daniel arap Moi is exposed as both an anti-environmentalist and a man "who orders police to shoot at crowds of demonstrators." The effects of British colonialism and tribal differences are also economically folded in. The biography officially concludes with Maathai's Nobel Peace Prize and is followed by an abundance of further information.

    This slim but emphatic biography stands out among others about Wangari Maathai with its well-crafted treatment of political issues.

    School Library Journal, starred review

    Prevot offers a gorgeous addition to the several books already available on Kenyan environmentalist and political activist Wangari Maathai, with as much biographical information as the pages can support. The writing is artful, clear, and concise, with references to Maathai's native Swahili language and the cultural connections to the environment. This book provides students a beginning for research on her early life through the political turmoil of a corrupt Kenyan government which fell in 2002; it will also support deeper understanding of how she earned the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for starting the Green Belt Movement, an NGO dedicated to planting trees, protecting the environment, and promoting women's rights. Fronty's art shines bright, expanding the text with styles that echo Henri Rousseau, Henri Matisse, and others. Of the other picture book biographies on Maathai, most focus on the tree planting rather than her life; this one offers appropriate information about the political upheavals that influenced Maathai.

    Publishers Weekly, starred review

    Dramatic and dreamlike paintings celebrate Nobel Peace Prize–winner Wangari Maathai, founder of the Green Belt movement. As a child in Kenya, Maathai learned the importance of nurturing forests, and after receiving her high-school diploma “at a time when very few African women even learn[ed] to read,” she traveled to the U.S. There, she studied the connections between environmental destruction, poverty, and oppression before returning to Kenya: “She asks that people think about the future even if the present is harsh and difficult.” Fronty’s fluid artwork incorporates organic motifs and African textile patterns to stirring effect, and extensive appended materials offer powerful supplemental information to conclude this standout tribute to Maathai’s perseverance and hard-won successes.

    Booklist, starred review

    A French import, this inspired new biography of Wangari Maathai has both aesthetic and educational qualities that make it a classroom must-have. Maathai, a Kenyan political activist known for her environmental work, is very much alive in Prevot's present-tense narrative that highlights the personal and political forces that caused Maathai to form the Green Belt Movement. An eventual Nobel Prize winner, she not only planted trees but also defied the sexism that kept girls out of school, raised alarms about colonial farming practices that cut down trees to make room for British coffee plantations, and fought local land developers and a corrupt Kenyan government, ultimately relying on the solidarity of women as activists and workers who strove to make "democracy grow like trees." Evocative, lush, and sometimes surprising images illustrate. In exquisite detail, Fronty inscribes the life and texture of trees on every page, leaving readers with no doubt that, as Maathai's mother told her, "a tree is worth more than its wood."

    Book Links

    This inspired biography of Wangari Maathai has both aesthetic and educational qualities that make it a classroom must-have. Prévot's present-tense narrative highlights the personal and political forces that caused Maathai, a Kenyan political activist, to form the Green Belt Movement. An eventual Nobel Prize winner, she not only planted trees but also defied the sexism that kept girls out of school, raised alarms about colonial farming practices, and fought local land developers and a corrupt Kenyan government, ultimately relying on the solidarity of women as activists. Evocative, lush, and sometimes surprising images illustrate. In exquisite detail, Fronty inscribes the life and texture of trees on every page, leaving readers with no doubt that, as Maathai's mother told her, "A tree is worth more than its wood."

    Details:

    Hardcover
    ISBN: 978-1-58089-626-9

    E-book
    ISBN: 978-1-60734-795-8 EPUB
    ISBN: 978-1-60734-794-1 PDF
    For information about purchasing E-books, click here.

    Ages: 6-9
    Page count: 48

    Correlated to Common Core State Standards:
    English Language Arts-Literacy. Reading Informational. Grade 2. Standards 1-8, 10.
    English Language Arts-Literacy. Reading Informational. Grade 3. Standards 1-4, 6, 7, 8, 10.

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